Category

environment

Why do children love to play so much?

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Green, Playing, Summer, Toys
by Tanya Petherick
Class Of Their Own

Children love to play. We know that, but just what is it about play that children love? At this point in an article, you might expect to see a definition of play. As people who study play are fond of saying; play is easy to see, but hard to define. The desire to play is innate. Innate is a word we can define. It means natural, in built, instinctive – in other words, no one needs to, or indeed, can, tell a child how to play. Play can be facilitated by adults, yet it is essentially child-led; children doing what they want with the resources they have available. Think about all the times a young child has been more interested in the cardboard box than the gift inside. Yet, play is not just for toddlers. Children of all ages learn through play. This might be something pragmatic, such as young children playing shops and counting out one apple and two pears, through to older primary-aged children playing card games using more advanced numerical skills.

Children receive a natural satisfaction from play. In academic circles, this is termed intrinsic motivation; a behaviour which is driven by an internal reward – put simply, play is something children want to do. A lot of the time, play is fun. Playing with friends, playing outside, getting wet, staying dry, playing in pairs, playing in groups, playing alone, imagining, making, cutting, sticking, creating, cooking, discovering, exploring – they all sound like great fun. Undoubtedly, one reason children might love play is it can be enormous fun – but it isn’t always. Sometimes play is sad, unfair or physically painful; think about children role-playing sad events, not being included in a group game and that childhood staple of grazed knees.

These three examples alone show how play can prepare children for life as an adult, sad things do happen and developing skills to process these emotions help us makes sense of life, understanding unfairness helps us to process information, and those grazed knees? Well, they teach us to tie up our shoelaces or the need to take more care on the scooter.

Can you remember being bored as a child? Getting part way through the long school holiday and declaring the dreaded “I’m bored” phrase? Being bored, or more importantly, being allowed to be bored, is an important part of a child’s development. It is when children are bored that they make creative use of the resources around them. I can remember ‘ruining,’ in my mum’s words, and ‘making more fun’ in mine, a game of Connect 4 by painting the inside of all the red and yellow circles with different coloured paint and using my new pieces to create a more complex version of the game. Had I not been bored with the original version of the game, I would never have developed my own, more engaging version of the game (I have to confess that this happened years ago, and I am still waiting for Connect 4 to pick up my great idea!). It is the necessity of creativity that results from being bored that can create fantastic fun.

Children have an innate desire to play, are intrinsically motivated to do so, and are creative about it, but does that answer our question about why children love to play? In a way it does. But let’s look at the question from a different angle. Maybe it is less about a child’s desire to play, and more about the associated benefits of play that have kept play at the evolutionary forefront of a child’s development. It is through play that children develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, emotional resilience, physical skills, concentration and creative thinking. Or, put another way, the skills that follow children into adulthood. At a time when children face criticism for being too attached to electronic devices, not doing enough exercise and being ‘over-scheduled’ the benefits of play may seem an overly simplistic response, yet as we have seen, it is through play that children find out who they are, and how the world around them works.

It can be easy to overlook the benefits of your child ‘just’ playing when planning the summer holidays. Allowing a child to follow their individual interests reduces guilt when planning holiday childcare, however, do not feel the need to overschedule children. As a parent or carer in today’s busy world, giving children the time and space to play is one of the best things a parent can do to help their child develop the skills they will need growing up and into adulthood. So, turn off the tablet and let children play in the way you did: on their own, with friends, at a holiday club and don’t forget, you can join in too! Let yourself be led by your child and don’t worry if you can’t remember how to play. It is what children do, so give them 30 minutes of your time and encourage them to choose what you do together – it is invaluable time together, and your child (and you!) will love it, but, also allow them to get bored and get creative – you never know where it will take them!

Class Of Their Own offer high quality, affordable and secure out of school clubs for primary school children aged 4-11. www.classoftheirown.com

Outdoor learning

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Gardening
by Sian Cattaneo
Head of Brighton Girls

Increasingly, schools are recognising that their curriculum needs to be more relevant to real life experiences and help pupils develop skills that will be helpful beyond their classroom experience. In nurseries and primary schools, this is incredibly important as teachers and nursery leaders endeavour to engage pupils in learning and make it enjoyable and relevant. In recent years the development of the Forest School curriculum has shown that these additional experiences significantly enrich the curriculum and helps many pupils to be more engaged in their learning. At our school we have seen the introduction of Wild Beach School as another ‘local’ resource which is proving to be a great opportunity to venture beyond the classroom.

So, why is outdoor learning valuable in an increasingly busy and over-stretched curriculum? Cynics might say that it is just a ‘gimmick’ that doesn’t really have any educational value apart from children getting some ‘more fresh air’. With such a pressure on schools to create a rounded and relevant curriculum, teachers are acutely aware that time and relevance is precious and are focussed on priorities in terms of educational outcomes. These sessions are about making the most of natural resources, offering a range of new and potentially challenging experiences and developing personal skills and qualities.

Schools are recognising that while the content of the curriculum is essential, an information based approach is less relevant and that pupils needs to be able to problem solve, respond to change and be flexible and adaptable. Technology, particularly in a mobile form, allows us to have information at our fingertips, the key question is how you use that knowledge to manage the challenges you face.

Many of us acknowledge that much of what we learnt at school didn’t really have any relevance to real life situations and that it seemed purely about information gathering. Outdoor learning takes this a step further in pupils getting more ‘hands on’ in a real life context (harder to replicate in a classroom!) and focuses on the learning outcomes and applying them rather than just gaining knowledge.

It could be argued that as a society we have become much more risk adverse and this is having a significant impact on future generations. Many schools use outdoor learning as a way of introducing risk taking in a managed way and in doing so, help pupils to build independence, resilience and problem solving. Roald Dahl once observed “the more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves”. This is undoubtedly what adults would want for any young person; the ability to take more personal responsibility and show initiative and self-sufficiency.

High quality outdoor learning experiences allow children to identify and assess risks more independently. Whether it be using a hammer for building a shelter in all types of weather or learning how to start a fire from scratch, these allow pupils to learn how to respond and negotiate their way around real life situations. We have frequently observed that often pupils are far more resilient than adults in the face of bad weather and will have more of a ‘can do’ attitude. We certainly all recognise that opportunities to get in the ‘great outdoors’ must be an important part of a children education. Not only will it give them a better understanding and appreciation of nature but also help them to understand the environmental challenges facing their generation. The process must begin from a young age if we are to change the culture of our society and to understand the human responsibility for nature.

At a time when children’s inactivity and time inside is causing real concerns, an element of the curriculum that runs alongside the physical education programme is being seen as invaluable. Outdoor learning, by the very nature of the tasks is often collaborative learning and is focussed on problem solving, showing initiative and teamwork. Open ended tasks enable children to lead their own learning and not always be directed by adults. It is also our observation that children who may sometimes find the classroom environment somewhat challenging respond well to the ‘freedom’ of the outdoor setting and often find success and receive positive feedback. Outdoor learning often develops different skills and consequently different children may take the lead, which can have huge benefits for self-esteem. Outdoor learning also lends itself to developing children’s natural curiosity and patience, as well as gross and fine motor skills. There is increasing evidence that working outside also has a huge benefit for physical and mental health.

We strongly believe that we increasingly need to look at the curriculum in a different way, to make it more about open ended learning and help children develop the skills that will be valuable in the future, rather than always be concerned about subject content. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful resources locally that we are able to make the learning experience so rich and vibrant and something we hope will make a positive lasting impression on children.

Sian Cattaneo is the Head of Brighton Girls, the only girls Prep in the heart of Brighton & Hove.
For any enquiries please contact 01273 280200 www.brightongirls.gdst.net, admissions@brightongirls.gdst.net

Get closer to nature this summer

By | Education, environment, family, Green, Summer
by Cate Jaques, National Trust, Polesden Lacey

One of the things I most enjoy about Polesden Lacey is seeing and hearing children having fun in the gardens and on the wider estate; running, laughing and exploring – experiencing nature, as my friends and I did.

When I was young I was lucky enough to live close to woodland. My friends and I would go exploring in the woods, according to memory, every day (although I’m sure this can’t have been the case –
I vaguely remember being in school occasionally too).

We climbed trees, made dens, built bridges and dammed streams. We loved it.

What my friends and I took for granted seems a less common way for children to play now. There’s even research that indicates that we, as a nation but especially children, might be suffering from something called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ – a phrase coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: “Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

A report by the National Trust, Natural Childhood, identifies four key benefits of playing outdoors:

Better for health
Playing outdoors can improve physical fitness in childhood, as well as laying the foundations for physical fitness in later life.

Being exposed to nature can even help you live longer. In 2009 researchers at the University of Essex published a report into nature, childhood, and health and life pathways. On one pathway, where children are ‘free-range’, people’s lifespan increases; on the other, where they are kept indoors and have little or no connection with nature, they die earlier.

In fact, regular contact with nature brings an increased level of satisfaction with life in general. A National Trust survey revealed that 80% of the happiest people in the UK said that they have a strong connection with the natural world, compared with less than 40% of the unhappiest.

Better for education
Increased contact with nature improves the way children learn. Child psychologist Aric Sigman found that children exposed to nature scored higher on concentration and self-discipline; improved their awareness, reasoning and observational skills; did better in reading, writing, maths, science and social studies; were better at working in teams and showed improved behaviour overall.

Better for our communities
Studies have shown that even in cases where the only variable is the view of green space from a window, incidences of crime are reduced by as much as 50%.

Better for the environment
We‘re just beginning to grasp the extent to which we depend on the natural world. If we are to protect the world we live in, rebuilding the connections between children and nature is vital.

In the words of David Attenborough: “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

©National Trust Images Chris Lacey

I hope, if you’ve made it to the end of this article, you’ll be inspired to encourage your little ones to come and see us at Polesden Lacey, go ‘free- range’ this summer, and get closer to nature.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/polesdenlacey
Information and references taken from the National Trust report Natural Childhood by Stephen Moss, published 2012.

Sun creams – the confusion

By | Education, environment, Health, Safety, Summer, sun safety
by Green People, ethical organic skin care and beauty product experts

We all know the importance of using sun protection, but a recent survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society shows that there is huge confusion around labelling on sun creams, with a significant percentage of the public unaware how much protection their sun creams offer.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults found that one in five was unaware that the SPF rating of a sun cream does not offer protection against all sun damage.

Only 8% of people surveyed knew that the SPF rating of a sun cream only refers to the protection from UVB radiation (the rays that burn), meaning that 92% of people had no idea that SPF ratings offer no indication of UVA protection.

What are UVA rays?
UVA rays cause long-term cell damage in the deeper layers of the skin and are the main cause of premature skin ageing and wrinkles.

UVA rays can still cause damage even if your skin hasn’t gone red and burned; this means that whilst you may believe you are getting good protection from your sun cream, your skin may still be experiencing damage.

To maintain high protection from both UVA and UVB rays it is more important to apply regularly and liberally than to choose a very high SPF sun cream.

Cancer Research recommends that two tablespoons of sun cream is applied every 2 hours; it is also advised that people avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 11:00 and 15:00 when the sun’s harmful rays are strongest.

Recent media coverage about UVA protection advised the public to check the ‘star’ rating of their sun cream, however the star system is not the only way to tell if a product offers protection against UVA rays.

The European Cosmetics Association COLIPA has designed a symbol to indicate whether products offer UVA protection in line with the recommendations of the European Commission. This symbol, which consists of the letters UVA inside a circle, is used to confirm that products offer UVA protection in line with these recommendations.

How high is high enough?
There can be a tendency for people who use very high factor sun creams of SPF50 and above to reapply less frequently and stay in the sun longer than when they use lower factor sun lotions. This can dramatically increase your risk of sun damage because in order to get good UVA defence, you must regularly top up your protection no matter what the SPF factor.

All Green People sun lotions offer broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection and are suitable for sensitive skin and those prone to prickly heat.