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Burnt Toast & Spilled Milk

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Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. The morning alarm goes off like a giant mozzie on steroids. You rub your eyes, push the child’s leg off your head, gather some breathing space and hit snooze. You lie back, small arms wrap tightly around you as you try to recall what you have to do today, what day even is it?! 

Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. “Oh man that WAS NOT ten minutes and where are my blankets?!” Giggles from deep below begin to emerge and a little voice pipes up, “We’re wombats!” You sit up and watch the two lumps under your blankets move slowly down the bed. You watch your blankets follow suit. You lie back again, sans blankets, half asleep and realise you still haven’t figured out what day it is.

Wednesday! It’s Wednesday. Right, I’ve totally got this. But first, coffee.

You enter the kitchen and are greeted with wonderful chaos: the aftermath of breakfast time. Bowls overflowing with milk. Oats on the floor. Sticky honey dripping down the bench and squashed banana or perhaps snot wiped on a chair. Why is it wonderful chaos? Read: AFTERMATH of breakfast time. The children fed themselves. You feel like you are already winning today.

Ah coffee. As you sip your piccolo, you begin to recall the days callings. Preschool for the youngest. School for the others. Library day for one child. Sports day for another. Did I wash their sport uniform yet? Surely it hasn’t been a week since they wore it. Karate after school. Swimming lessons. Geez how many children do I have? Groceries. Did I sign that excursion note yet? Do we have any appointments today? Oh I start work early today. Can’t forget that. Children. Can’t forget them either. Speaking of which…why is it so quiet?

Upstairs you find a note taped to your bedroom door, ‘wombt hom’. You stand in the now open doorway and stare open mouthed at the space. Your relaxing private haven has become a cluttered, chaotic mess. Pillows lay scattered on the floor. Blankets hang from hooks you didn’t even know were there- oh wait nope sticky tape on walls. A pile of leaves is clumped in the far corner, the kids have been outside? And how did they even manage to move the bed?? Your room is completely unrecognisable. Your gaze moves to the three sleepy wombats who come crawling out from underneath. Proud as punch and deeply in character they begin to rub their behinds on your leg. You feel torn, they are having such fun but you don’t have time for this. “I am Hairy Nose Itchy Butt!” exclaims one. “Yeh, I really need to scratch my butt” giggles another. “Do you like our Wombat house?” they asked in unison. They stop. All eyes are on you, awaiting your response.

You know your response will determine what will happen next, not only for their play but for each child holistically too. Think: behavioural, emotional, confidence and self esteem. You take a breath and look past the cluttered chaotic mess to really observe your surroundings. You notice the scattered pillows are purposefully placed segregated dens, equally spaced and symmetrical creating a fair play space for all. The blankets, although they are sticky taped to the wall you notice a pile of pegs on the floor from previous attempts to problem solve. Alongside the pegs lays a book, ‘Hairy Nose Itchy Butt’, a family favourite. You see they have dramatised the story and even extended it, all on their own. The sign on the door, although spelled incorrectly with backwards letters is a great attempt at making sense of literacy, it’s incredible. You see mathematics, problem solving, language, literacy, imagination, engineering and more. “It’s amazing!” you reply, your open mouthed now curled into a big smile. Your response is met with three proud grins, and you are pretty sure you saw an actual sparkle of confidence and self esteem fly past. Then you take a breath and add, “But it’s a school day. Time to get ready.” This response is met with frowns, protests and complete devastation.

Cue the morning rush where your children turn from playful wombats into ACTUAL SLOTHS. From packing lunchboxes, to unwashed sports clothes, lumpy socks, lost library books and that one child who actually thinks they are a wombat and keeps disappearing back into the wombat house. Protests of not wanting to go are demanded. Pleads that they just want to play are cried. Did someone just actually say their legs can’t work? Parent guilt creeps up, patience becomes thin as your morning goes from ‘I’ve got this’ to ‘Why am I yelling for?!’ How do those Pinterest Perfect Parents do it? Surely they are robots not actual human beings?? Who’s idea was this whole going to school 5 days a week thing, and why does it have to start before 9am?! *breathe*

As your morning continues to turn upside down, thoughts enter your head looking for someone to blame. It wasn’t the children’s fault, they just want to play. It wasn’t your partners fault….although….no no, they aren’t even here. Those Pinterest Perfect Parents certainly set the bar high, but you know it’s not reality. What about the school itself? Yes. IT. IS. ALL. THEIR. FAULT! They have ruined your morning. “If the school allowed children to learn through play, my mornings would be easier. The kids would want to go!” blood boils as you shout to your mirror self. You imagine a world where Peter Gray is King….

“Self-education through play and exploration requires enormous amounts of unscheduled time—time to do whatever one wants to do, without pressure, judgment, or intrusion from authority figures. That time is needed to make friends, play with ideas and materials, experience and overcome boredom, learn from one’s own mistakes, and develop passions.” 
― Peter Gray, Free to Learn.

Before you leave you take one last glimpse at the Wombat House. You smile and decide to leave it up, texting your partner a photo of it in case they get home before you. School may not be flexible in their teaching methods, but you can still provide the time, space and resources they need to play at home. It’s all about balance. You will find time and patience for this. Chose your battles and absorb positivity from your playful children. Weekends will be amazing! Your re-discovered sense of calm and awe has brought you back into the state of ‘I’ve got this’. Suddenly you hear ‘MUUUUUMMMMMMMMM’ echoing down the hallway, snapping you out of your play based school day dream and you realise you have been talking to yourself in the mirror. As reality hits a waft of smoke hits your nostrils. You enter the kitchen and are greeted by your children madly  waving tea towels in the air, “Mum you forgot your toast!”  Calmly you flick off the power point, open the window and encourage everyone out the door. Burnt toast will not ruin your day!

Fast forward to the afternoon. School pick up. Car fights: Really, did you have to look out his window?! I’m sure her leg was there first, it is her seat after all. How are you even reaching him, damn you’re flexible! I’m going to put walls of perspex between your seats if you don’t stop hitting each other.  You try to take a moment to hold a conversation with your children asking, “How was your day?” “What did you do?”. Each attempt is met with the same response, “Nothing” or “I forgot”Once home, it is a race from the car to the wombat house. Play takes off where it was left and all car fights are forgotten. Their world is drawn in deeply to their imagination. New ideas develop and the play evolves.  What ever they did all day at school, you can bet they didn’t turn their classroom into a wombat house. If only they could…

 Disclaimer: Parts of this story may be based on true life events, although due to the amount of coffee beans harmed in the process we can not be sure where true reality actually lies.

Written by: Bec Carey

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Mud Mud Glorious MUD!

Bec Carey

International Mud Day may have come and gone for another year, but that doesn’t mean we have to pack up the mud!

“It is time to embrace the mud 365 days a year & dive head first into the mud pit….

Mud mud glorious MUD!”

Exhibit A: Yep that’s me, mid belly slide!

Before you pass me off as completely crazy, don’t forget that our responses, body language and own fears portray to children. What they see, hear and feel can determine how they engage in play…..if they see you avoiding mess, turning your nose up at it or complaining about the clean up, chances are they will avoid it too. However, if they see you laughing, playing and fully embracing the muddy messy goodness…. they will join you!

Exhibit B: Me again…*splat*

You see, mud is an all ages play resource- yes that means you too! Whether you are a wee bubba just learning to sit,  a toddler finding your balance or an older child (or adult) ready for a mud wrestle, mud provides the perfect space to explore, let go and be. Raw&UnearthedPLAY is all about being in the moment and experiencing that true sense of being…..where nothing else matters except for right now, this moment. All fear, stresses and anxieties have flown away. The world slows down and time is created to just be. 

 “Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers,water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, wild strawberries, trees to climb. Brooks to wade…bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, pine-cones, rocks to toll, sand, snakes and hornets; any child who has been deprives of these has been deprived of the best part of…education”

– Luther Burbank

As the world slows down, you control the pace. You may chose to slowly spend time tasting, feeling or observing. You may work quickly to mix, pour and create. You may repeatedly scoop and pour, over and over because time is yours. Yes, time is yours. You set the pace. So why not make it unhurried, uninterrupted and spontaneous? You may take time to notice, watch and see. Build understanding of why and how. You may seek a fast paced mud fight, rolling big fat slushy balls to send flying across the yard watching in awe at the splatter patterns they create on impact. You may allow ideas to develop as you go, no need to plan and foresee outcomes. Mud and messy open ended play matters. The way you promote it and the value you place on time can make an ‘activity’ become a full blown, complete body, memory making experience.

What I loved about International Mud Day 2017, is that more and more people were joining in! Social media platforms were bombarded with images of muddy fun goodness. Each year, the 29th of June is a day where children around the world celebrate connectedness to each other and the earth- through the earth itself…..MUD! This year we saw everything from mud play-dough, small tubs of mud to dip hands in and bigger tubs for a whole body experience…and my personal favourite, the full on mud slide! The best part? All these experiences provided were at a level of comfort for the educators and children. While I may be (not so) quietly pushing you to experience a belly slide in the mud….I know that at times people need to take baby steps to build their own comfort levels in order to make it enjoyable. But really, you should definitely do a mud slide at least once!

It is not just fun that this muddy play is good for. Being outdoors, children are engaging all those senses. Their whole bodies are engaged, stimulated in all the right ways and they are building connections to the natural world. Their holistic sense of wellbeing is becoming strong and healthy….so why not join them? Don’t you want some of that magic for yourself too?

Exhibit C: Me again. Pure happiness is found in the middle of the mud pit. 

They say children are 100% washable……..Guess what? So are you! 

For those that prefer to limit the washing and cover up with some all weather gear, here are some of our favourite buys:

http://www.inspiredec.com/store/c14/Splashsuits.html

http://www.poshgrotz.com.au/store/c3/Onesie.html

https://www.mountainwarehouse.com/au/kids/

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Learning together: curiosity and experimentation

Sarah Hammersley

Being a facilitator of Raw&Unearthed PLAY I generally learn much more than I teach. Each and every session brings a chance for new ideas to be formed, connections to be made, challenges to be negotiated and relationships strengthened. Today was no exception.

The delightful toddler (in these photos) demonstrated just how capable young children are when it comes to being the agents of their learning and negotiating risk. Especially, when they are provided with the space, time and opportunity to observe, explore and experience the world.

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He was standing with mum intently watching and studying the movements of the older children and the tyre as they played on the tyre swing.  When the older children moved on this toddler made a b-line for the swing. Mum attempted to lift him on and sit his legs through the tyre but it wasn’t really happening. I suggested letting him stand next to the tyre. Mum put him down and slowly moved back giving him space to explore. She sat next to me and watched as he first touched the tyre with his hands then lowered his head and looked through the centre of the tyre. With a big smile spread across his face he exclaimed, “Harry!” Mum returned the interaction by responding, “Harry you’re looking through the tyre. I can see you.” This turned into a game of peek-a-boo and before long he had pushed his upper body through the middle of the tyre.

As we watched on we reflected on how our instinct as adults is to help the child to play on the tyre, (just as we would). By propping him up into a sitting position. We continued watching and discussed further the importance of him developing an understanding of the movements, weight and the gravitational force of the tyre by  experimenting and going through the exploratory process he was going through now:

• Challenging his muscles in new ways at a level appropriate for his capabilities  (determined by him);

• Building his vestibular sense and understanding of his body in the world;

• Experiencing physical trial and error through safe risk taking;

• Experimenting with force, weight, gravity, movement, height and physics (to name but a few);

• Playing creatively and using his imagination whilst engaging all of his senses because he is outside!

All experiences and understandings he will later draw on when he is able to climb up onto the tyre himself.

Becoming more adventurous with the tyre he charged forward and pushed it with a greater force. It swung higher came back and knocked him over. Mum stayed next to me. I commented, “the tyre knocked you over.” He stood back up and pushed it again. This time as the tyre swung back he drew on his previous experience and purposefully side stepped, dodging the tyre.

Mum excitedly commented on how, he had learnt and discovered to move out of the way of tyre all by himself acknowledging his efforts and thinking processes.

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Without meaning too, when we rush in to rescue children from situations such as this. We rob them of the ability to view themselves as capable, resourceful and resilient. We tend to scue the situation by viewing the experience with our (often negative) adult perceptions.  Our fear of failure rather than viewing the fall as a a vital step in a child’s exploratory journey and as an extraordinary moment in developing the child’s fascinating way of being.

By not rushing in to rescue him, mum was not only able to provide him with the opportunity to critically reflect, problem solve and push through the struggle of a fall. She enabled him to experience a natural consequence of playing with the tyre. He was able to explore and test his own capacities, to manage risk, and build a concrete understanding of the movement and play affordance of the tyre.

Erika Christakis put my thoughts into words perfectly when she said, “to see a child fully, we have to allocate the time and space to observe.” This seems to be the most logical yet hardest thing for educators to achieve. I challenge you this week to make it a priority. Step back and be an attuned observer within your space. Let go of the schedule and learn from the children!

Points for reflection:

How would you share this with your colleagues and or families to show them the thinking and learning involved?

What did you learn from the children today?

How does the structure, flow or rhythm of the service routine enable or disable children with time – for whole body, hands on explorations?

Count how many times you instinctively step in to help a child. Stop yourself. What happened?

What does the Early Years Learning Framework say about play and risk?

References

Christakis,E.(2016).The Importance of Being Little: What young children really need from growups. New York: Penguin Books.

Lethal Rain

Bec Carey

Instead of going straight into a rant about the abundance of ‘so over the rain’ and ‘can’t do anything in this weather’ Facebook statuses I’ve seen over the past few weeks, I have decided to channel my emotions into positive inspiration… see I’m learning?! But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least apply some form of ‘Bec humour’ to the situation. I am my fathers daughter after all, you can blame him.

So it’s raining. You know that highly lethal stuff that falls from the sky and totally ruins your day? That horrible stuff that will literally make you melt if it so much as touches your skin. That liquid that is filled with germs, and if children play in it they WILL get sick. It’s terrible, terrible stuff.

I too used to fear rain. In fact, I dreaded it. Those mad rushes to the car weaving in and out of the drops. The handbag over the head  when you forgot an umbrella. The wet clothes, the soggy shoes and the dark moods that came with it. The ever long periods of inside play because, well see paragraph above.

Then one day something shifted inside. NB: It’s probably more likely that I got stuck outside in pouring rain and instead of running for my life or using the closest child as an umbrella, I decided to embrace it. I found my inner calm and went with it. It’s only water after all.

While being outdoors in rainy weather may be a new concept for some, I find it truly magical. A bush walk in the rain is one of my favourite things to do. It’s almost like being a part of something secret, forbidden and new. It brings a new found confidence and mystery to children’s play. They become one of the few who dare to venture out in the rain. It makes them feel big in an even bigger world. A world that is so busy, suddenly falls quiet. A path that has been walked 1000 times, all at once looks different.

A rainy bush walk is the perfect opportunity to completely ignite all your senses. Colours become brighter, textures come alive and the smell of fresh raindrops on leaves is unbeatable, you really get drawn in. The bush becomes animated with movement; flowing water, wind through the trees, sounds in the air and a mixture of murky and clear puddles appear, waiting to be jumped in.

There is the old saying that ‘you will catch a cold if you play in the rain’. Sure, cold weather can definitely make your nose flow but that doesn’t mean you are going to catch the flu. Viruses cause these illnesses and you are probably more likely to pick up these air borne beauties indoors.  However if you don’t believe my theory, (and why would you I am not a doctor), here’s some food for thought from my non-doctor self. How many people do you know who have been on a holiday to the snow and  have ‘caught a cold’ from playing outdoors?

Alfred Wainwright said:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

Now, he seems like my kinda guy. You wouldn’t go to the beach on a hot summers day in a snow suit.  So of course dressing in suitable clothing in rainy weather will help you overcome any fears and make the experience more comfortable. It’s time to switch your Prada’s for some gumboots!

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Losing Control without Losing it

Bec Carey

We have spoken about letting go, stepping back and allowing the children to explore  their own urges. We have encouraged you to promote more time outdoors, unstructured and in nature. We have advocated for  children’s right to play, to be free and be active decision makers. We have asked you to view children as capable independent beings. We have shared evidence and knowledge on the benefits of all of this…..we have told you that trust is an essential ingredient in Raw&UnearthedPLAY. But what about you?! While you stand there watching your child/ren swing through the trees and turn your lounge room into a shop/zoo/village and use everything in their reach that isn’t tied down to build their ahhhmazing triple deck pirate ship…..you feel overwhelmed and  I bet you can’t help but feel a case of the ‘whats’.

What if- someone spontaneously pops in for a visit and sees my messy house?

What will- parents/owners/visitors think of the messy preschool room?

What will- people think of my mud covered always dirty children?

What happens- when we need to attend something structured?

What if- people think i am just a lazy parent?

What will- the other Educators think of my practice?

What will- happen when they go to school?

What if What if What if!  

The only way to get rid of a case of the ‘whats’ is to stop caring what other people may think, and it may also help to stop comparing your parenting/early childhood practice to the heavily edited perfection that streams through your Facebook feed. It’s time to get real. Have fun. Enjoy life. Stop worrying what others may think. Just breathe and remember play is messy, children need space and time to test out ideas and  what others think doesn’t matter. If you aim to inspire others instead of conforming to societies ‘ideal perfection’ of perfectly behaved quiet children, you will find that you can lose control with out,  losing it.

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The ‘Perfect’ Family photo…

Let’s rewind a few years when I was at the pool with my then 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son. My 4 year old was having her weekly swimming lesson so naturally my 2 year old had to tag along. If you have met him, you will know he is a bundle of energy with a love of risky play. As we watched I couldn’t help but notice ALL the other 6 attending younger siblings were strapped in prams, glued to iPADs. I was absolutely gobsmacked! These babies we muted, unaware of their surroundings and unable to move. My own 2 year old was of course swimming in the shallows in his clothes, with a massive smile plastered on his face. While admittedly I was judging their choice of the ipad use, the early childhood teacher in me can’t help it, I can guarantee they were all judging and probably labeling me #badmum and my son #uncontrollable. Luckily for my son his happiness and development matters more to me than others’ judgments and I didn’t freak out and try to gain control, I went with it. At the forefront of my practice, I know the benefits of losing control and this enables me to not completely lose it in these type of situations.

 

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NOTE: ‘These types of situations’ like that time I lost my 6 year old…..can you see her?           Hint: Red Pole. 

While I understand the juggling act of parenting- lets keep it real, I didn’t even have spare clothes with me that day at the pool. I just cannot fathom the benefit of providing a baby with an iPad. They are missing ALL the fun- say clothed swims and nudie car rides home! Sadly, I have noticed more and more babies being offered ipads in prams in various places- it seems to have become the norm. Recently I was asked by a medical receptionist if I thought an iPad was a good Christmas present for her 2 year old grandson. Needless to say my answer was ‘No, buy him something that he can use outdoors!’  These scenarios led me to reflect the reasoning of using ipads for babies. The only thing I could come up with is that it is to keep them quiet, entertained and distracted so they don’t disturb others. Am I wrong?  I am wondering when society suddenly decided that children should be seen and not heard again? In some cases not even seen…yes cranky man who told me a cafe was no place for children, I am talking about you! (Insert heated discussion re:children’s rights here, wrong person to approach buddy!)

But what if we changed our case of the ‘whats’ to a case of the ‘ifs’…..

If- we all let go and stopped worrying about others’ opinions?

If- we let children be?

If- we let children experience boredom?

If- we stopped overstimulating our children?

If- we all started to be honest?

If- we all supported each other instead of judging?

If we did all this, we would all be able to let go of our need to control all situations and allow the children to be, without judgment. When I am out and about and I see a child testing out ideas and advocating for their right to play, (sometimes puddles just scream to be jumped in!) There is usually a nervous stressed parent nearby and I love sparking a conversation with them, easing their qualms. Of course it helps that my own children have usually dived head first into the puddle alongside their child. These conversations will spread the word and allow us to not feel judged or lose it when our children push the (tight) boundaries society has created for them. It’s time to loosen those boundaries, let the fun begin!

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Trolley rides on the street in Pyjamas……why not?!

So here you are standing watching your child/ren swing through the trees and turn your lounge room into a shop/zoo/village and use everything in their reach that isn’t tied down to build their ahhhmazing triple deck pirate ship……you take a deep breath in and smile knowing your child is becoming strong, creative, independent and that their imagination is well and truly alive. You feel satisfied that they will continue to grow and become stronger and be equipped to take on life challenges they are faced with. As you breathe out you relax, you have let go of the need to over control without losing it because you don’t care what others may think. You know childhood is such a small moment of time in the bigger picture. It may take time to adjust, to feel comfortable to fully let go of trying to control. During this time I recommend coffee. Lots of coffee. There isn’t much a double shot espresso can’t fix.

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This is what losing control without Losing it looks like! So much fun play for the child and a calm, satisfied parent nearby. Trusting relationships, understanding and living life to the fullest! 

Structurally Unstructured

Bec Carey

Nature’s playground serves us a delicious buffet of open ended resources, room to run wild with the wind or hide down low in secret spaces. Served on a bed of time,  we can soak it all in, explore, discover and make meaning of the world around us. Nature’s Playground is a beautiful spread, desirable in every single way and a recipe that I just can’t get enough of. It’s simply perfect. Perfect, not only for me- a nature loving, mud monster, tree climbing being- but perfect for children of all ages, with a diverse range of learning styles and urges for play. We’ll take a serve for everyone please, with a big fat scoop of fun and a sprinkle of love!

With unhurried time in nature, time was spent working together to develop fishing play. Rules were negotiated, ideas respected and conversations flowed. 

‘But children need structure!’ I hear the voices of many call through the wind… ‘They need to sit at desks, learn the alphabet, count to 30 and get ready for school.’ Well lets put a stop to those voices right now, turn your head so they pass with the wind. Take a breath of that fresh spring air and reflect.

REFLECTIVE QUESTION: Why do some people think children need to spend early childhood preparing  for the next stage in their life, school?

How would you feel if when you became an adult at 18 years old you were told:

‘Ok you’re an adult now, let’s prepare you for old age. Let’s spend your days practicing being old and helpless. Here’s a bed pan, if you don’t start using it now while you’re a fresh young adult, how will you ever possibly learn how to do it when you’re 85? While you’re at it, you might as well practice using your walking stick. No time to be an young adult, you need to prepare yourself for old age!’

Of course by the time you actually are 85  years old you will have completely mastered all the skills required to be an elderly person and you will of course then spend your days preparing for death. ‘Lie down, tongue out , glazed eyes, don’t move. Perfect! Just keep practicing’ Ok so maybe i went too far there…..but you catch my drift. 

REFLECTIVE QUESTION: If children are spending their current journey  preparing for their next journey, when do they get to be in current time?

How can they relax, deeply engage or experience joy? How can they truly explore interests? You can’t teach confidence, intrinsic motivation or empathy by sitting at a desk. You need to experience them to explore the feelings they create and urges that follow. What better place to build on these dispositions than out in Natures Playground with the wind in your hair and your feet on the earth.

We’ve said it before, TRUST it is an essential ingredient in Raw&UnearthedPLAY. It is a vital part of supporting children to become confident, capable, and  creative. Trust allows children to unlock their brains, develop the ability to reason, critically think and imagine. This trust allows us to let the children engage freely in play, away from adults. That’s right, away from adults! In their own private space. Within uninterrupted periods of play, ideas naturally emerge. There is no need to extend your ideas the following week, create lengthy lesson plans or spend hours creating fancy play areas (we all know the children will ‘trash’ your playspace to create their own anyway). When you truly trust children and yourself, it all happens naturally. Perhaps you do already trust the children, it may be yourself that you don’t trust. It may be your inhibitions to let go, unleash control and just let it be that is stopping you. Children have the unique ability to extend their own ideas, this is how play develops. Outside in a natural environment, the opportunities are endless. Nature is filled with loose parts ready to be explored. You just have to build that trust with the children, let go and observe.

As the idea of creating a ‘fairy house’ emerged, play began to flow. Confidence in sharing these ideas flourished with encouragement. Mathematical concepts, language, creativity, resilience were among the many learning outcomes….but ill just call it ‘Play’.

With access to loose parts, space and unstructured time, play ideas led to a shop being created. Buttons were used as money, baskets and boxes used to promote ‘plastic free’ and turns were taken to explore the different roles. This play continued for weeks, completely child driven, established and resourced. When new ideas came along, items were moved, added to and adjusted as the space merged and grew with the play. 

In a supportive trusting environment, children will revisit and extend on their play scenarios each day or week as play ideas evolve. If anything, trusting children to have their own ideas for play, to resource the natural environment and to extend using their own ideas makes less work for us as parents and educators.. Yes you! Put down that laminator. Step away from that cardboard box you are about to turn into a shop!  They’ve got the ideas all locked up in their amazing brains…..our intention for teaching should be nothing more than to unearth their imagination and encourage them to play, both alone and socially with others. We can support is by providing space, time and tools. Give them the cardboard box, allow them free access to paint, tools, loose parts and provide space for them the create their own shop.  The structure of learning that some desire, comes from within their process, their ideas, their play.

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Children collaborating on ideas, sharing knowledge and collectively making meaning of the language they see in their environment…….not a letterland or reading eggs singsong CD in sight! 

Children create their own structure, they don’t need us to do it for them. They are fabulously ‘structurally unstructured’ in the best possible way. They will return to familiar spaces, they will extend their own ideas, they will ask questions and explore to seek answers, they will move on when they are satisfied. They don’t need a bell to ding when its time to change activities, they don’t need adults hovering over telling them how to do it, they don’t need to sit at a desk and hold a pencil to be learning. In fact, if they haven’t played and used their fine motor muscles to grasp, squeeze and hold, chances are they won’t have the strength to grip a pencil anyway, hello frustrations and low self esteem. Play in the early years provides time and opportunity for so many vital development milestones to happen; let them play, let it be unstructured, let them just be. Trust yourself to let go of the idea of structure and watch amazing things unfold before your eyes.

After spending weeks observing older children engage using the saws, time was spent testing out his own ideas and interpretations, including holding the stick with his foot and persevering through the challenge. 

REFLECTIVE QUESTION: Do you change your approach or teaching style in different environments? Why/Why not?

Play encourages children to not only resource their environment, but each other too. Peer learning plays a significant role for children, especially younger children who spend time observing others before having a go themselves. This is where they absorb, analyse and interpret what they can see, hear, smell and feel. It is so important to not rush children, this is a vital learning time for them as they are internally interpreting and making sense of the world around them. Urges for play develop and their own creative individual ideas emerge. They may begin by imitating or copying others and  then explore and test limits and boundaries, continually observing for new information or results. Our intention here should be safety, to provide a safe space and reduce the hazards to minimize risks.

It’s amazing to watch children when given the freedom to assess their own risks, they often pause to observe the space, others and internally process their own risk benefit assessment. Benefits and urges nearly always win through a child’s eye, and this is where our intention for teaching should be to guide, discuss and reflect with the children to move their bodies, encourage them to apply whole sensory engagement to the moment. Nature provides such a sensory rich play environment, there really isn’t a better place to be. Being ignited in every possible way will allow them to be tuned in to their environment, become connected and confident and capable in their own abilities. This learning is transferable in all aspects of life; both indoors and out.

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A gifted Wombat puppet, becomes ‘Sebastian’. The child rummaged through a basket of natural loose parts, resourced a beanie to set up a space for him. The story has been re-enacted, extended and now he lives a life of his own, deep within the child’s play.

These blocks of unhurried, uninterrupted (preferably) outdoor play  will allow children to grow, make sense of their world and become truly comfortable and confident in their own skin. Overtime along with many skills, they will learn to; resolve conflict, share ideas, listen to others and  make their voices heard. They will establish rules, negotiate, collaborate and seek solitude when its due. This practice is what prepares our children for life, not just the next chapter. Get outdoors and unstructure your day! It’s time to play.

Hammer time.

Sarah Hammersley

“If you can live with Suzie cutting her arm off or putting a hammer into someones head then go ahead!” Are these words that you’ve encountered before? Or a sentiment you’ve been lumbered with when suggesting to incorporate real tools into your space for children to use? Unfortunately, this was a response an educator I was working with was hit with. This comment in turn made her reflect on her own thoughts, visions and values and second guess herself.

No people NO! As educators we need to be dynamic, open to possibilities and new ideas. Educator fear is real but just because we are scared, nervous or apprehensive about something, does that mean the children that we work with should miss out? Our National Early Education and Care Regulations ask us to take a risk management approach to children’s learning and in fact within the Guide to the National Law and National Regulations it states, “The National Law does NOT require services to eliminate ALL risk and challenges from Children’s play or environments.” (p. 68).

Fear leads educators to provide plastic tools to play with and then wonder why the children are hitting each other on the head with the plastic hammers……. well…. because there’s not much else one can do with a light weight plastic hammer…. really? is there? And then you hear the fear induced remark, “And this is why we won’t use real hammers.” In order for children to learn about and negotiate risk and safety they need to be provided with real opportunities to do so. In the words of Dan Hodgins, “You cannot learn to be safe by avoiding risks. Risks provide an avenue for practicing the skills involved in making wise choices.” They (children) need to feel the weight of a real hammer. They need to learn which muscles they need to activate to move the saw back and forth when cutting and that it takes time, persistence and dedication to cut through a branch (it won’t just happen by the click of a button or a swipe to the right). And yes, they need to understand what it feels like to slip and hit their thumb with the hammer in order to negotiate and refine their skills. Children aren’t into fake. They want to be involved in real projects like helping to fix the broken wooden bookshelf. You can’t do that with a plastic hammer! 

Combat fear through open, honest and reflective discussion. Acknowledge it and plan measures and steps of how your team can push through barriers, overcome it and move forwards. PLAY! Practice setting up the space and play with the tools. Gain an understanding of what they feel like in your hands, how you can use them and the processes you go through as you work with them. Collaborate with a colleague at your service (this might even be someone from another room team) who will support your implementation. Pushing boundaries and following your vision for early education that is ‘outside of the tool box’ can feel lonely and isolating (at times) BUT gaining support from other members of your team can then lead to shared visions and goal setting. When others can see the success and ‘learning’ they will want to jump on board the train too…… but sometimes this train can take some time to leave the station.

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Raw&UnearthedPLAY kit

Recently in my teaching I have been  exploring and observing the relationship between the explicit teaching of skills and freedom, self-direction, motivation and creativity – But is there a place for the explicit teaching of skills within an early childhood setting?

Let’s talk it out…..

Our very own Early Years Learning Framework for  Australia (EYLF),(2009) guides us to be intentional and to create opportunities for children to learn through meaningful and challenging experiences THAT are supported by interactions that promote a higher level of thinking. This doesn’t mean taking over. It doesn’t mean teacher lead or directed, and it definitely doesn’t mean sticking to the predetermined plan at all costs. It means on the spot, skilled analysis of a child’s existing knowledge and skills. Knowing when to provoke thought through asking a ‘real’ question, providing a prop or tool, stepping back and watching, or knowing which experienced other (yes, this can be a child!) can scaffold or share their knowledge to support the acquisition  and enhancement of  what they know and can do.

“Intentional teaching: involves educators being deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and action. Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have ‘always’ been done that way” (EYLF, pg 15).

When we look at the work of psychologist and developmental theorist Lev Voygotsky (1896-1934)  and his work on the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) he suggested that the ‘zone’ is the area of growth between what a child (or learner) “can do without help and their frustration level” Verenikina (2008), or what they can do with help. It implies that the meaning of teaching is a co-construction of knowledge between the educator and child or peer and child. Working within a child’s ZPD is to closely observe children being actively engaged in their learning, know how far you can challenge their thinking or understandings with the future goal of becoming self-directed, motivated, life long learners. For example, a child wanting to use twine and a twig to create a fishing rod becomes frustrated because they cannot tie a secure knot with the twine. A more experienced peer or educator can support, model and give explicit instructions to the child on how to loop the twine to tie a successful knot, guiding the child to independence.

Scaffolding is a term that came out of Vyotsky’s work in the ZPD and was coined by Bruner (1976). Bruner suggests that in order for scaffolding to work and be an effective teaching technique, you must be attuned to the child’s current level of knowledge and begin to build from there. An essential step in scaffolding is the “process of internalisation”, time to practice and gain mastery with encouragement and support from an educator or more experienced peer. Gradually lessening the level of support and guidance provided to the child. It is important to acknowledge that the ZPD is very individualised and unique. For example; while the majority of three year old children may have similar skill levels, each one is at a different individual level on any given skill. Let’s say the skill is hitting a nail with a hammer into a piece of wood. Most three year old children will have the understanding that you move the hammer up and down on top of the nail. Some children will already know that you need to hold the nail in position for this to be successful and others will know that you need to negotiate the movement of the wood, if using a branch for example.

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Holding the branch still whilst Lily uses two hands to hammer the nail.

At  Raw&UnearthedPLAY we have children from as young as 18months accessing and using tools. The way we introduce the tools is individualised and based on the current skills, knowledge and experience each child brings with them. We introduce the variety of tools we have (in our tool kit) progressively over the term so that the children and families have time to learn and become familiar with one tool, rather than becoming overwhelmed with the whole kit. This enables us, as facilitators a closer opportunity to support and guide the parents or family members in how to work with their child’s abilities.

When working with children in a mixed age setting you observe co-construction of knowledge and skills unfold naturally. Scaffolding happens by both the older and younger peer. The younger children will spend large amounts of time closely watching and observing how the older children work in their play. This interaction often pulls the younger children up to a level they would otherwise not have explored (yet). “Over time the variety and complexity of ways in which children connect and participate with others increases.” EYLF, (2009). When working with children we are there to support them to push through barriers, think about alternative strategies and provide them with an abundance of time to think, reflect, process, understand, negotiate and hypothesis. Answers don’t need to found in a day.

Collaborative development and direct consultation with children about what they know and how to keep themselves and other safe is an extremely important part in the process. Planning alongside the children means that they can and will have a sense of ownership over the entire experience. Providing children with real opportunities to engage in risk assessing conversations about hazards vs risks and directly in the development of safety procedures and boundaries for safe play is necessary for life long learning. In this collaborative process, children can challenge and extend their own thinking and knowledge, and that of others. In turn this creates new shared understandings.

“Children’s active involvement changes what they know, can do, value and transforms their learning.” (EYLF, p.33).

Yes, working with tools can at first glance seem like there are just too many barriers and hazards to work through. But after collaboratively developing your safety procedures with the children, go and purchase what you’ll need in terms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – gloves, goggles, vests, signage, tape. You will determine what PPE is needed through your risk assessment process. Work with the children to designate the appropriate space and prepare it ready for play. Discuss numbers of children and how you will provide adequate supervision of all children and if you will have specific times that the tools will be available how will you determine this.

You don’t need to wait until you have enough money in the budget to purchase a fantastic tool wrap or the entire tool box. Start with a couple of hammers, nails and a pallet. Experiences such as this require a shift in practice. To really honor the capabilities of children we need to start by letting go of what we’ve always done. Don’t rush things, it will become overwhelming for the both you and the children and you’ll ended up crossing your arms saying, “We tried it and it didn’t work.” Take your time and provide the children with prolonged time to deeply engage and explore.

The benefits absolutely outweigh the risks in this case and you will discover this for yourself. Once the children have acquired the skills to manipulate and use tools the craftsmanship will follow. You will see their learning through their determination, creativity and inventiveness which will be recognised as deep concentration and complete focus on a project that captures their interests. Opening up the door to a whole world of real hands on projects led by the children through their own motivation to learn.

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Working together

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The essence of balance, control and pure ingenious.

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Using the saw not only enables the development of physical skills, strength and capabilities but provides an opportunity to develop patience, deep concentration and mindfulness.

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Laykn started off with gumboots and gloves on and experimented and negotiated with various ways to keep the branch still enough to saw. He noticed that his gumboots were in the way (it’s quite challenging to sit down in gumboots) so he took them off. He tested his foot position on the branch in several spots before he found a comfortable, strong and supportive position where he could wrap his toes around the branch. With the stick now balanced he began to saw. Discovering that he couldn’t grip the handle of the saw as tight as he needed to took the glove off. With his body balanced and his grip on the saw now tight he was able to begin sawing through the branch. Dynamic risk negotiation in action. We were close by should there have been a need to intervene or support further risk assessing. Trust, space and time was all that was needed in this case.

 

References:

I. Verenikina(2008) Scaffolding and learning: it’s role in nurturing new learners. University of Wollongong

The Guide to the National Law and National Regulations 2011 (2014). Part 4.2 Children’s Health and Safety. Protection from Harm and Hazard (p. 68). Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. Retrieved Oct, 2016.

Belonging, Being & Becoming. The Early Years Learning Framework (PDF). Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments. Retrieved September 2016 (p 15, 33).