On June 9th & 10th I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Natural Playgrounds and using nature within the curriculum. A presentation and some great hands on learning were implemented by Adam and Jill Beinenstock, a husband and wife team who combine their knowledge of Landscapes and Early Childhood Education to produce playgrounds that bring children back to nature.
Many of us grew up playing amongst trees,digging in gardens, climbing hills, picking up worms and lovingly creating mud pies. In the last few decades, generations of children/people are growing up without ever playing in a forest or sticking their hands in mud because of fear-mongering."We are a social enterprise that has responded to a crisis. Children no longer have the freedom to roam or explore their neighbourhoods, walk to school, or even climb a tree as we did when we were young. Our playgrounds have become flattened, paved and sterilized land punctuated with catalogued monuments of plastic and steel while obesity rates, diabetes, asthma and ADHD run out of control through our children and youth. Screen time for kids in North America now exceeds 52hrs per week and for the first time in history; our children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. This happened on our watch, and it is becoming clear that something has gone terribly wrong." - Beinenstock.
Adam speaks very passionately about what he does. One of the stories that really stuck with me was about Adam meeting with an inspector at a playground with a boulder: The inspector was apparently questioning the safety of the boulder and what relevance it had in the playground, when two children came along-one who was "fit" and the other not so much-to play at the boulder. The fit child made his way to the top in a few movements, while his friend took a few tries and had difficulty. The fit friend then began guiding and encouraging his "not so much" friend to the top of this boulder. The inspector got his answer. Kind of a modern Aesop's fable! After his intro. and slide show, we split into groups and visited the host Daycares playground. We listened to how the process leading to the final product was very important to the overall function and design. It was then our turn to create a scale model masterpiece....a thoughtful venture indeed!!!
Jill was also an inspiration, evoking much conversation about how we can use our curriculum to bring children back to nature. A slide show about gardening prompted talk of plant safety and shrubs that you can see under. Many people seemed astounded that children (in the pictures) were using metal and wood gardening tools. On the second workshop day, Jill had brought along a vast array of curriculum ideas that the adults got to try! Do you know how relaxing it is to mould red clay?! Making natural paint/dyes with the mortar and pestle, rolling bird seed "meatballs" and creating habitats for snails (how do snails fly?), these were just the tip of the iceberg. So much happened in such a small period of time, but it was an experience I know i'll always remember.
Check out these links to find out more about connecting children with nature:
Just as a personal aside; Playgrounds are also my passion. My goal in 10years is to be creating playscapes full time. To remind parents, Educators and schools about the benefits of nature in our communities. The people that know me will tell you that I will just about talk your ears off about the subject of outdoor play and those of you I haven't met yet.....be ready!
It is time for us to help our children reconnect to the land that once taught and nurtured so many of us. It is time for us to give them back the ability to get dirty, take risks, and play freely.
Until You Read Again.....