Rest time?

Rest time?

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It is a researched fact that from around the age of 3 years, most children stop requiring a day time sleep.  There have been multiple studies done by multiple sources.   Yet, many early childhood services continue to control children and ignore their natural urges.  They use the premise of “children need rest” and “we know best because we are adults” to coerce children into unnatural sleep patterns.  It is then noted that they must need it, otherwise they’d not have fallen asleep.  I wonder – if you are put in a dark room, on a mat or bed, soft music playing, not allowed to move or make a sound – what else IS there, but to go to sleep.  Often there is soothing, rubbing and patting backs involved also.  Quite frankly – this might be categorised as abuse.  Enforcing a child to partake in a routine act that they neither want, nor need.  Usually this is for adult privilege.  Time to do cleaning, paperwork, or just have a break from active supervision in the day.  Is this by any stretch of the imagination ethical practice?

I’m not sure why “now” is a thing either. Like, this time of year?  Why are people talking about culling and reducing rest for children who are going to be starting their transition to school in a few months?  Either children need sleep or they don’t.  Right?  Shouldn’t it be cut and dried and simple?  If children need sleep, they sleep – if not……. well……

By “encouraging” them into sleep, we are breaking the natural human rhythms of life. It is no wonder that parents complain about their child being up at night, not getting good sleep, etc. Because the balance has been interfered with.  Yes, I completely agree that a child who has not had sleep and needs it, is also placed at a disadvantage.  Because once again – the natural rhythms are being interfered with.  It is a fine line we walk.  So how do we get it right?

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First things first – are that in a service, we need to build relationships.  With children AND with their family.  We need to spend time getting to know them – who they are, and what their primary care needs are.  What is their normal natural pattern of wake and sleep?  And what are the things that they need for sleep to happen (i.e. – comfort items, etc)?  And this is the base from which we start.  We also need to have some basic trust and knowledge that children are the boss of their body.  Ultimately, they are the only one who knows what they truly need.
We need to know a child.  And we need to be tuned into them.  Very young children are often unable to recognise or give voice to their body’s state of tiredness.  So initially, it really is up to us to recognise the very first sign of tiredness in a child, and act on it straight away.  Getting this right, is key.  There is such a fine line.  If we don’t bring a child to rest when it is needed can be as detrimental as forcing a child to sleep when they don’t need it!  In partnership with families, we need to work with a child’s own rhythms.  It is really for this reason, that a prescribed time of rest for all children in a group does not work.
From the age of 15 months in our service, children are given autonomy over rest. There is no such thing as lying on a bed because it is “rest time”. You lie on a bed if and when you are tired and need a rest or sleep.  We need to tune in to children.  We need to know them well.  Especially for the very young.  I find even at 15 months of age, when you help a child to recognise their need for sleep, they are competently aware of their body’s needs.  They may not come to us and say “I need a sleep”, but they certainly come looking for guidance, displaying all the signs we come to know of each child’s tiredness.
It is likewise our responsibility to stop forcing sleep on children who don’t need it.  Rooms full of beds after lunch are so completely unnecessary.  And what a waste of time!  Getting beds out, cleaning them, putting them away.  All for nothing – and sometimes at a big cost to children’s wellbeing.
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So what can rest for young children look like?  Of course – even those who don’t need sleep, will often require periods of down time during the day.  So we need to make sure that there is space for that to occur.  This can be done by thoughtfully providing spaces around our environment for children to just be and give their body and mind the time it needs to refresh a little.  Comfortable couches, swing chairs, mats and cushions, hammocks, trees to climb up and sit in for a while, secluded spots in the outdoors….. anywhere a body can just be in a position of relaxation.  So this means we have to stop thinking that children need to be constantly engaged or entertained.  When we see a child off sitting on their own – we leave them the heck alone!  When we let them take care of their body’s own needs – their body gets what it needs.  It also needs to be, that there ARE spaces for a child to have a bed and sleep in a non-traffic space – when they need it, not when it is convenient for us.
Children are capable human beings.  They have a brain, and like us – they are the best judge of what their body needs.  When we trust them enough to allow them autonomy, we are not just showing them the respect they deserve as a human being, we are setting them up to become confident and resilient.  I am not advocating that we stop being the adult guide that they need through their childhood.  I am not suggesting we just allow them to do “whatever they want”.  As always, children need us, they need firm boundaries, they need order in their life.  They need US to help teach them how to be the makers of their own destiny.  But ultimately they also need to be in charge of just that.

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School Ready?

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In Australia, we are powering towards the end of the year.  The parents of children who are eligible for school start next year are starting to get anxious.

Some concerns of parents are:

  • Which school?  Am I getting it right?
  • Is my child prepared for school?
  • Can they do all the things they need to be able to do?
  • Will they be with friends and/or make new friends?
  • What should I do?

This is such a big transition in a child’s life.  One of the biggest in fact.  And yes – all those concerns are so valid.  Because really – we have one chance to get it right.  What happens from here, can be the catalyst and shaper of the next 13 years of a child’s schooling career.

There is a lot of information floating around the inter-webs these days, pointing to the many flaws of our education system.  And different words of advice.  Many of them citing research from around the world about what is the best solution for education.

What I want to do – is to acknowledge all that research – which points towards children being advantaged in many ways, by delaying the beginning of formalised learning until a child is seven years old.  Yes, you heard right – SEVEN.

I’m currently watching our group of Kindergarten children, some of whom are turning five…….  some of whom are not long past four!  In six months, the majority of this group of children will be in a primary school setting.  Facing a life of desks, and passive learning.  They will be between four and a half, and five and a half years old.  Their little bodies with still so much developing to do.  Their brains with room to grow.  So many of them not even physically developed enough to successfully execute what school expects.  Their bodies still needing to move.  Neural pathways still being developed.  Emotional regulation still being established.  But they will be expected to have it all together – all their ducks in a row, so to speak.

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So what am I getting at here?  What do I advocate?  Well, aside of all those very good developmental reasons – there is one more that we rarely hear about.  What about joy?  The joy of an extra year of childhood.  An extra year to get it all together.  Imagine that!  The gift of a whole year.  365 days more to play and discover the world around you with no academic agenda.  All that time for little bodies and brains to further develop.  At four or five years old – a year is a lifetime.

I’ve watched closely, children whose parents have opted to give them this gift.  And I’ve been delighted to observe little humans just that little bit more ready for what school has in store for them.  Actually – a LOT more ready.  Their executive function is firing on all cylinders.  They are far more ready and resilient.  The are bigger and stronger in every way.  AND, they’ve had a whole extra year of childhood to make wonderful memories.

What if our whole world opted to delay that school entry?  What if every child received the gift of another year of childhood?  I can’t begin to describe the difference this would make.  Instead of being bombarded with figures of record numbers of children being expelled from school, and concerning NAPLAN test results, we might see figures of children excelling in ways we haven’t seen before.

Of course, I will continue to advocate for changes to our schooling system.  Because I believe this too has much to be held accountable for.  I’ve heard that it takes 40 years for changes to a system like this to take place.  Far too long for our children right here, right now.  And many to come.

So, while we are taking the next 40 years to make the changes that will serve our race – let’s think about the small steps we can take.  And one of those, is to stop pushdown of formal academic learning on our little people.  To give them another year.  To let them be children………. for just a little bit longer.

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Discipline…. control or love?

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I’m currently preparing for a Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) 10 day intensive course.  And in that preparation, I’m doing as much reading as I can cram into the time I have available.  What I’m finding in my preparatory reading, is that while the focus of this information is to apply it to babies and young toddlers, it is applicable far beyond those years. I’m having reinforced many of my philosophies of working with children, as well as deepening my knowledge of theory behind the thinking.

One thing that was opened in my reflective thinking a few days ago, was the concept of “discipline”.  It’s a word that we often shirk away from in our early childhood settings.  Because it conjures up images that are very damaging to our way of thinking.  For me, I start thinking of “corporal punishment” type methods, sending children to a “naughty chair”, and other such horrid experiences for children.

We tend to try and use less threatening words for discipline.  Words like ‘guidelines’ or ‘boundaries’.  And there probably isn’t really anything wrong with this.  But maybe avoiding the stronger term is leaving us with a wish-washy approach, that sees less experienced educators feel like they are not able to enforce disciplines in their spaces.

Children need boundaries.  And there should rightly be “consequences” for breaking those boundaries.  Again – here is another word that we struggle with.  Because sometimes consequences sounds a little too much like ‘punishment’.  Sometimes words can be our worst enemy. Or perhaps not the words, perhaps more our perceptions and thinking that is provoked by words.

According to a ten-year study conducted at Harvard Medical School  (The Science of Early Childhood Development. (2007). National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. http://www.developingchild.net), there are six factors related to the eventual intellectual capacity of a child:

(1) The most critical period of a child’s mental development is between eight and eighteen months old.

(2) The mother is usually the most important person in the child’s environment.

(3) The amount of ‘live’ language directed to the child between twelve and eighteen months is absolutely critical.

(4) Children given free access to living areas of their homes progressed much faster than those whose movements are restricted.

(5) The family is the most important educational delivery system.

(6) The best parents are those who excel at three key functions: they are superb designers and organisers of their children’s environments; they permit their children to interrupt them for brief thirty-second episodes during which personal comfort and information are exchanged; finally, they are firm disciplinarians while simultaneously showing great affection for their children. In other words, they love their kids, talk to them, treat them with respect, expose them to interesting things, organise their time, discipline them fairly, and raise them in strong stable families. It’s a time-honoured recipe for producing bright (and happy) children.

“Firm disciplinarians”…… I’m sure that conjures up the same feelings for others, as it does for me.  How do we define the term ‘discipline’?  Magda Gerber (1979) writes, “I see discipline as being a social contract, in which family (or community) members agree to accept and obey a particular set of rules.”  We need rules.  Having a mutually agreeable set of rules assists us to coexist in a family or community.  In this context of being with children, these rules are the guide to a child living in a socially acceptable way.  It is how they learn to be a part of community.  We need to be consistent, but not rigid in our approach with young children.  And within these rules, must be some freedom to make choice.  We can establish good habits when we are consistent from the very beginning in our expectations.  Ultimately, we are not looking to be the ruler over children’s lives – but to guide them to develop their own inner discipline.  We will always have some areas that are non-negotiable – but we also need to have things that are negotiable, where children have choice, and there will also be those things we don’t necessarily like, but we tolerate.  Choosing our battles, is one of the toughest things for us at times.  Because we often don’t want to feel like we are not in control.

As the disciplinarian, we need to be very clear ourselves, on what the parameters are.  If we are not convinced of that, then neither will be out children.  Our children need to be motivated through consistency.  Where they have been gently and firmly guided to a place of self-discipline, self-confidence and feeling joy in being part of a community through cooperation.  We should rely on a sense of children understanding that these rules exist, not upon rewards for complying, or punishments for not complying.

“What rewards and punishments do is induce compliance, and this they do very well indeed. If your objective is to get people to obey an order, to show up on time and do what they’re told, then bribing or threatening them may be sensible strategies. But if your objective is to get long-term quality in the workplace, to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, then rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless. In fact, as we are beginning to see, they are worse than useless—they are actually counterproductive.”
― Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

Children need to be treated as competent members of our community, and subjected to rules and disciplines in the same manner as we should expect of ANY member of our community.  Would I bribe a staff member with a sticker if they did their job?  Would I send them off to sit on a chair if they did something less than desirable?  Children deserve our gentle nature, our kindness, our love and our respect.  They deserve us to be the ones to guide discipline, so that they develop into productive members of society.  And at the same time, we need to remember that they are human too – they need to make choices, and they need to learn from the choices they make.  Discipline is not a bad thing when it is defined in the right way – when we look at it from the stance of creating self-discipline and principled habits.

Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.     

Maria Montessori

From which realm do your acts of discipline stem – control, or love?

The Birthday Hat…. otherwise known as “Making Memories”

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Sometimes we just do things – and we don’t really think about the impact or the specialness, until somebody else brings it to the fore.
 
We have always celebrated children’s birthdays in our service, by sharing a cake (or something) with them – that they bring in from home. They usually sit with their room group to do this at afternoon tea time.We’ve always come together as a whole service for staff birthdays to sing and recognise. (When I say always – I am referring to since before I was at my service (so longer than 6 years).
 
While doing our reflections together late last year, we considered why we didn’t come together as a whole service for children also? Our shift has been to a very open program, that is multi aged. So children spend less and less time in age groupings for us.  Why were we still scaling it back to celebrate birthdays?  Were we really making this a special day for children?  
 
We decided to try coming together for children also. All of us. It was rather spontaneous the first time we were doing it – and we looked around for something that would bring attention and let everyone know – and be fun.
 
We plucked the bells that were hanging on a hook on one of the verandahs. They were so perfect, that they immediately took on the new role, as the “Birthday Bells”.  Coupled with the “Birthday Hat” which has also been around for many years…… a new tradition was born.
The birthday child circles the playground and the rooms wearing the Birthday Hat and ringing the Birthday Bells, gathering everyone together.  We all head up to the yarning circle, where there is recognition of the special birthday we are coming together for, coupled with a choir to be reckoned with singing “Happy Birthday”!  The cheers echo throughout the neighbourhood.
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A parent approached me recently, quite anxious as to whether her little boy would get to do the birthday bells and hat, because he didn’t come to care on his actual birthday. She said it was all he talked about in relation to his birthday, and his excitement outweighed any requests for gifts.  She was terribly concerned.  And of course – it doesn’t have to be the actual day.  The closest day they come to care is the best pick.
 
I do really love the creation of our new tradition. And the sense of togetherness it gives us all. But more so, the sense of belonging and specialness a child gets when we recognise their special day with them. They get to be the centre of the universe for just a while.
 
This custom and tradition has another spin for me too. A child with autism, who has been with us for a few years now – yesterday gave me the warmest glow inside. As he heard the bells ringing – he skipped his way up to the yarning circle. As I got closer to him, I heard the soft singing of Happy Birthday. And the little grin across his face showed me how much he was with us all in that moment.
Having been thrown the opportunity to reflect on this new little tradition, which is now only a few months young – I sit with a tear in my eye. Realising and understanding that we have seamlessly formed something not only very special for children – but something that will likely form one of their early childhood memories.
 
And that little grin creeps across my face, as I understand fully, that we got this one right.
 
It is the special times in a child’s life, that will become the memories that stay with them as an adult.
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“We didn’t realise we were making memories.  We thought we were just having fun.”
Agency Vs. Being the adult.

Agency Vs. Being the adult.

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I call myself a fierce advocate for children’s agency. I like to think that I am current, progressive and contemporary in my thinking and practice.

The children in my world experience a great amount of freedom.  They get to make decisions about their days that many would only dream about.  <insert mental image of a child lying on a grassy green mound, staring up at the sky with a big empty fluffy white thought cloud>  They get to choose when they eat, play, sleep, poop, sing, read, climb…….. you get the picture.  There is an exponential amount of freedom for them.  And they love it.  It facilitates joy.

There are some things they don’t get to choose though.  For instance – they don’t actually get to choose that they come in the very first place.  Very few of them anyway.  They come because the adults in their lives make that very significant decision for them.  For some it is because parents are working, for some it is because parents need their own space for a time for their well-being, for some it is because parents feel they need something more and different than home provides.

While I would be so bold as to say and assume that most children enjoy most of their time with us – they aren’t really given the agency to make that decision.  Don’t get me wrong – this is not a bad thing. It is because we as the adults in the lives of children sometimes have to make choices for them.

Giving children agency, does not mean that we stop being the adult in their lives.

One thing I know about me – is that I am adult.  Just that.  There are times when I have to help children through a situation.  There are other times I need to make decisions FOR children…. in their best interests.  It is my job as an adult to make sure that the children in my world are safe from harm.  It is my job as an adult to ensure they know how to keep themselves safe from harm.  So they don’t always get completely free reign.  There are times when we have to step in.  There are times when we have to direct.  And there are times when we have to say no.  Of course – we can also choose exactly how we go about those things too.  We can certainly do it without creating a dictatorship. or making children feel inferior.  It’s not about superiority – it’s just about having been on this earth for much longer, and knowing more about it – the joys and the perils.

There are several things that speak to me, telling me that no matter how much agency I wish to afford a child – I HAVE to, at certain points, be their rock.

The Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics calls me to “act in the best interests of children” and to “create and maintain safe, healthy, inclusive environments that support children’s agency and enhance their learning”.

The Early Years Learning Framework states that, “Children’s agency, as well as guidance care and teaching by families and educators shape children’s experiences of becoming.”

Whilst giving many statements around children making decisions in their lives and having control – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 3:  “States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health…..”

As professionals, many of us use and promote the concepts of the Circle of Security in our work with children.  The top part of which promotes a secure base for children to be in, and experience the agency of their world.  The lower part creating that foundation of a safe haven for children, where adults keep children protected by their very presence.

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There are many places that support agency for children, but also rule the line for the need of the existence of adults in children’s lives, and their input.  And aside of all these professional directions – there is the plain old human instinct we are given.  We don’t allow children to put themselves in harm’s way.  We teach them that the world is not an innocent place, and that they need to be and act in certain ways to protect themselves.

As we strive in our work to allow children agency to make decisions – let’s not forget that we have a responsibility to them to keep them safe.  And while I love nothing more than to see children in control of their world, there is a certain specialness allocated to us, to also be their champion, and to be the one to wrap our arms around them at the end of all that is said and done.

“Agency” and “Being the adult” to not have to be in competition with one another.  There can be a harmonious balance.

“Always: be BIGGER, STRONGER, WISER, and KIND.
Whenever possible:  Follow my child’s need.
Whenever necessary:  take charge.”

What do they really want?

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At this time of the year, there is a surge in the debate of children “Graduating” from Pre-School/Kindergarten/whatever it is that you call the year before starting school.

In our centre – we call it the Possum Group.  This group of children – these capable little humans – whose days with us are right now very numbered.  We feel like it’s a sad time.  And in many ways it is.  These little people have often staked claim on a piece of our hearts.  Four and five years old, and some of them we have known their entire lives.  It literally brings tears to my eyes, to think about them leaving us.

But this week – we got together with them, and their families……. and we celebrated them, and their time with us.  We are still getting good at this.  So don’t get me wrong – I think there is still a long way we can go to making it better.  But every year, we do a bit more reflecting, and then the next year, we become a bit more open, and things change.  One thing that never changes though – is that celebrations are important.  This is a big time in children’s lives, and it is special to come together to not only recognise this change – but to come together to create joyful memories.

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“…our image of the child is rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent, and most of all,  connected to adults and other children.”  ~Loris Malaguzzi

I wonder if there will come a time, when this celebration is completely in the hands of the children – and to be honest, it’s what I strive for.  We still seem to take it on in our adult capacity quite a bit.  We’re still learning.  That’s what I like about us.

But this year, for the first time – the planning process DID start with the children, and asking them what they wanted.  I think we put words into their heads, because they wanted to call it their “Graduation” when we discussed that.  I don’t think a child would necessarily come up with that word to describe this on their own.  But “Graduation” it was.  For now.  We used our Floorbooks, and we consulted WITH children.  Asking them what this celebration would look like,  how it would happen.

They got very adamant about a cake.  They really wanted a cake.   Specifically – a chocolate cake with pink icing.  Because I think that children and celebrations and cake all go hand in hand.  Don’t they?  And the decorations?  Well – they wanted very specific lollies, sprinkles, and they wanted to write on it themselves.  So, that’s what happened of course. And as for the way it turned out – I’ve never seen a better “Graduation” cake in all my years.  It touched my soul.  It was their work of art – completed together, and might I add, very proudly displayed!  They wanted balloons, streamers and a big sign.  They wanted to have a photo show, and they chose their own music – “Geronimo” and “We Will Rock You”.  They even went through probably thousands of photos, to choose the ones they wanted to depict their year.

We had our input also.  We did have a time of seating everyone.  To bring these little people forward one by one, and give them the chance to tell everyone what they’ve loved about their time with us.  We presented them all with a special keepsake card with photo and poem, as well as a little native tree – which we offer them to plant in memory of their time with us.  This is a tradition we started a few years ago – and it is our part of input into the celebration.  Because I believe we deserve a bit too.

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We had invited our reading volunteers along, and the children thanked them with a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers.  As for Keith, who drives the bus out to Mayfield (bush kindy) for them – well, his time honoured gift was chocolates and a water gun.

Short speeches by the teachers and myself, and the viewing of the slideshow, followed by the cutting, and of course eating of the cake.  The children able to do what children do best – and get their play on – whilst the adults had the chance to reflect with one another, and spend time together.

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The place was filled with parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and close friends.  The circle of security was tight.  All the people there, who really mattered.  Even a set of grandparents all the way from Adelaide for the occasion.  We do pride ourselves on those extended relationships.  They are special to us.

What will next year bring?  I believe it might be even more relaxed again.  I believe that the children’s voice will speak even clearer and louder.  Because we are getting so much better at letting go, trusting children, and remembering that after all – this journey is all about them.  It’s about the memories that they can create and hold.  And not for a minute, do we want to control what is important to them.

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“Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.”
~Dr Suess

 

Stuffing around with nature

Stuffing around with nature

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We humans are really slow learners.  I don’t necessarily refer to learning as in growth, development and education – I mean learning as in reflecting on the paths we take in life, and realising that we aren’t doing so well.

There has been a huge shift in the world, when we are looking at the sustainability of Earth.  Have we shifted far enough?  NO!  Nowhere near.  We have a long road ahead of us before we finally really start undoing the impact we have had on Earth.  We have taken nature for granted.  Every step of the way.  As a human race, we put on our blinkers, we topped up with greed, and we went about destroying the very thing that sustains our lives. Nature.

But this is not a post about sustainability of the Earth and its resources.  No, sir!  ….or Madam, or maybe I should say, just “No”.  This is about the way we have also decided to rebel against our very essence.  The way we have decided that we know better than our creator.  Our bodies and brains are intricately designed with purpose and function.  We learn best through our natural instinct and interaction with the world.  Our bodies develop when left to do so freely.  Our minds remember things when we experience them over and over.

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Naturally, we are not designed to be forced into age segregated institutions.  Naturally, we are not designed to sit still for long hours at a desk being ‘instructed’ on the ways of the world.  Naturally, our body needs to move.  Naturally, our minds need to experience.  Naturally, our souls need to connect with others.  Naturally we need nurturing in our lives – both from others, and toward others.

We were made to LIVE in this world.  It is nature.  Play is nature.

“Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like “self-motivated practice of life skills, “ but that would remove the lightheartedness from it and thereby reduce its effectiveness. So we are stuck with the paradox. We must accept play’s triviality in order to realize its profundity.
~Peter Gray,  Free to Learn

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We have destroyed our Earth, with our neglect of the natural world.  Our attitude of greed – nature is “not enough” – has seen harm come to our planet.  And we are having the exact same effect on our children.  Adults want and expect more and more from children, younger and younger.  The competition between parents is fierce.  “Whose child is excelling the most?”

We are stripping the nature out of our children – the natural instincts that see them develop and grow.  And we are doing our best to create some sort of synthetic race of living breathing human robots.  We need to cut back our unrealistic expectations, our demands, our boxed in thinking.  We need to give children spaces to play that open their minds, hearts and imaginations.  Spaces where they can discover, move and mould their own environments.  In a nutshell – where they can PLAY!

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Just as we are becoming more aware that we need to stop our greed and care for our natural world before it is too late, we need to let go and care for our children.  We need to step back and give them room to rejuvenate.  Childhood is a time of magic.  Magic that feeds the heart and soul, and makes beautiful memories.  But also, the sheer magic of the way we are so intricately designed to weave our way in the world.  We need to cut out the interference and allow nature to take its course.  We need to feed our children on a diet of time and space – so they can play and learn and grow and develop…..just the way that nature intended them to.

It’s time to stop stuffing around with nature.

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