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Children in a forest

Four Real Benefits of Nature Play

If you have ever wondered about the real value of some good ole’ fashioned fresh air and outdoor time, then I would suggest you watch children as they bury their nose in some wildflowers, find an unusual alien-like insect in the woods, or happily splash around in a creek. As children explore their outdoor environment, they experience that special kind of pleasurable satisfaction nature provides that many adults remember feeling as children, and, as their parents did before them. A sunny summer afternoon running through the garden sprinkler or winter weekend spent playing hockey on a frozen lake are wonderful Canadian traditions, happily experienced and always fondly remembered.

When Playing Outside Can Seem Like a Daunting Task

However, the stress and effort of preparing young preschoolers for outdoor play, especially in colder seasons (… oh, you know… the coats, the assorted cold weather accessories, the piles of shoes and boots, the lineups at the bathroom…), can oftentimes feel a tad overwhelming. And that’s not all teachers have to worry about. What about the risk of injury? Insect stings? Mud puddle mishaps? Or possible zombie apocalypse?! Dear lord, the list just never ends.

Outdoor Play versus Nature Play: Is One Really Better?

Nature play is not just simply playing somewhere outside. It is actually more of a child-directed and child-initiated form of play in a natural space, such as an overgrown field, patch of woods, or the unmaintained areas of a neighborhood, and offers a great many benefits. Check out these following four benefits that nature play has to offer your childcare center.

Nature Play Benefit #1: Healthier Kids

Imagine a child running through a small patch of woods where trees have magically transformed into hiding places, upturned roots into forts, and fallen branches into jungle gyms. Now, compare the imaginative possibilities a child has in these woods to the possibilities provided by a swing or a slide in a playground. In both these instances there is a chance for physical activity, yet, undoubtedly, the woods do offer more options. This malleable and flexible aspect of nature is referred to by researchers as the ‘affordance’ of nature, and it is this affordance that offers substantial benefits to physical and motor skill development in small children.

Nature Play Benefit #2: Sharpened Intelligence

The variety provided by nature both stimulates and develops a child’s body physically, all the while offering an added boost to their brain development. When children are engaged in dynamic and varied outdoor play, they encounter ample opportunities for decision making. These circumstances, in turn, stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving in situations that are not typically found in a playground or static indoor environment.

Nature Play Benefit #3: Stress Relief and Social Bonding

Have you ever felt more relaxed after a walk along the lake or a hike in the woods? Most probably, the answer to that question is a loud YES! Well, it’s the same for kids. An added bonus to feeling relaxed is that time spent in nature often strengthens social bonds between children. Unstructured time inherent in play activities allows for the social interactions deemed to be crucial building blocks of emotional intelligence. When play time takes place in nature, kids have substantially increased possibilities for problem-solving, sharing, negotiating, and working together. So, you see, nature works as a facilitator of sorts for significant childhood social interactions.

Nature Play Benefit #4: Nurturing Care for Our Planet

As a general consensus, the scientific community believes that Earth will face tremendous environmental challenges in the upcoming years. Thus, in order to overcome these challenges, we will be in need of people who not only understand the Earth but who also have come to truly appreciate and care for it. Therefore, naturally (no pun intended!), research shows that nature play is a crucial stepping stone for developing these types of individuals. When children spend time in direct contact with the environment, through nature play, they can have the positive experiences that may, in fact, precondition them to care about nature and the world later on in life.

Picture of an Angry CHild

Top 10 Teacher Tantrum Tactics

Teachers, what do you do when your sweet little doe-eyed angels morph into screaming, crying, out-of-control tornadoes? Enter the dreaded temper tantrum. It’s loud, obnoxious and can turn any classroom into a rioting carnival. Heaven knows, it can happen in the blink of an eye and make any newbie or veteran teacher want to cry.

Tired Teachers, Gather ‘Round!

From frustration to hunger, jealousy to exhaustion, temper tantrums are triggered by a great many things. The sad truth is, they’re inevitable and are simply an age-appropriate phase that is passing through. Nonetheless, educators can certainly stay in control of their classroom with these ten excellent tips for dealing with tantrums. Be prepared for your colorful set of classroom meltdowns the next time they come a knock’in ’round your classroom door.

10 Tough Tantrum-Wrangling Techniques

Did you know that your actions before AND after a tantrum can make a world of difference as well? Believe it or not, it’s not just about how you handle a crisis in the moment. Check out these steps on how to approach tantrums, before, during and after they occur.

THE PRE-MELTDOWN PHASE:

Certain techniques can be implemented in the classroom to reduce the risk of a meltdown taking place.

1) Let’s Talk About Emotions

Talk to kids frequently about their feelings and how they are connected to tantrums. Go over the fact that everyone, including adults and even teachers, get upset from time to time. Consider role-playing games so children have the opportunity to really think about how they can handle their emotions when they get frustrated or upset, in a positive manner.

2) Get to Know Your Students

Take the time to chat with your students about what makes them happy or sad, as well as their likes and dislikes. This will give you an idea of what triggers them to become upset. This will also be the key to recognizing if/when a tantrum may be looming.

3) Keep an Eye on Potential Tornadoes

Many tantrums can be prevented once you know what a child’s possible triggers are. By keeping a close eye on how kids are doing throughout the day, teachers can gauge if a child is hungry, tired or bored, thus keeping ahead of any tantrum tornadoes. By recognizing the signs, teachers will be able to offer a child what they may need before the meltdown starts.

4) Become a Master Distractor

If you see a child on the verge of a tantrum, distract them with a book or a toy. Redirecting a child’s attention away from the negative emotions of a meltdown can help them calm down before it even begins. Something as surprisingly simple as asking them how they feel can divert their course.

THE EYE-OF-THE-HURRICANE PHASE:

Ah, oh. It’s too late. IT HAS BEGUN! What should you do when disaster strikes? Take a deep breath, and:

5) Step Back; it Might be a Doozy:

Flailing arms, kicking feet and punching fists often come for the tantrum ride, so, please, mind the safety zones and give tantrums lots of space. Prevent any accidents by moving an upset child away from areas with sharp corners or hard edges. Encourage the other children to work on quiet activities, like reading or drawing, in a different area of the classroom.

6) Keep it Calm, Keep it Cool:

Losing your temper is the worst thing you can do during a tantrum. Try to remember that these things are normal for young kids. Therefore, their behavior, no matter how UN-FUN it may seem, is indeed age-appropriate. Tantrums help children work through their emotions, release anxiety and stress, and come to an internal resolution.

7) Provide Kids with a Calming Place

Remove any frustrated or overstimulated children from their environment and provide them with a calming place where they can work through their feelings without becoming even more upset. Designate a calm area, or Quiet Zone, where kids know they can go and Zen-out when needed.

8) Don’t Ignore it; Talk it Out:

Encourage your kids to talk through their problems with a friend, with their classmates, or with you. As a teacher, don’t overshadow them. Make sure to get down to their eye-level and let them know that you understand how they feel. If they talk to you, do respond, but do not attempt a dialogue if they are not in a place where they wish to talk. Your most important role as a teacher is to listen.

THE THANK-GOD-THAT’S-OVER PHASE:

Congratulations. You’ve survived the worst of it all. Now, let’s get back to business.

9) Don’t Act Like the Elephant in the Room Ain’t There:

Talking about what just happened in the classroom may not be your first instinct as a teacher, and yet, it’s best to help children understand how to work through their feelings.

10) Encourage Empathy in the Classroom

All kids need to understand that their classmates may have trouble with certain things, like sharing or transitioning from one activity to another. You can encourage empathy in the classroom by having regular, honest, heart-to-heart conversations about why “we feel the way we do.” Children will then be in a position to understand how their friend(s) feel when they have a tantrum. Empathetic children will be able to be kind, helpful and respectful in times of tantrums.

Mother & Daughter

Attitudes: Moving from Positive to Negative

We all have inner voices. You know, that non-stop loud-talker that sometimes dominates the private conversations we have with ourselves. Unfortunately, neuroscientists have actually discovered that these often too critical voices are, naturally, more negative than positive in tone. Sadly, a child’s inner voice(s) can be particularly negative, even more so than adults, since it is usually driven by fear, doubt, and shame.

Is it possible to teach young preschoolers the “power of positivity?” Does negativity affect a young child’s healthy development? Can we help our kids deal with their “inner critic?”

Silencing Our Worst Enemy: The Inner Critic

Let’s think about this example for a moment:

You arrive to pick up your usually bright-eyed, ever-curious three-year-old daughter at daycare one afternoon only to find her in tears. A three-year-old in tears? Well, that’s probably nothing out of the ordinary considering, as we all can attest to, the “three-nager” years are, basically, one huge emotional rollercoaster ride. However, after a brief chat with the teacher, you come to understand that mini-you had a fight with her best friend. It was a dramatic scene, apparently, complete with name-calling, pony-tail pulls and a Barbie in the face. It takes the entire car-ride home for her to stop crying. You open the car door, proceed to remove her safety harness when you hear her whispered, “Lisa doesn’t like me. I’m a bad friend.”

Even though the sound of your heart breaking over the words of your child can be deafening, the truth is, of course, that it’s NOT true! And yet, it is these kinds of negative thoughts that all too often repeat in a child’s mind, over and over again, on a daily basis. That’s why it’s important to break this cycle of negativity as soon as possible.

Moving from Negative Nelly towards Positive Pete

Think about how many times a kid hears the word “no” in an hour, a day, even a week. Or, how many times they deal with a negative experience in class with their friends or at home with their families. According to neuroscientists, this exposure to negativism is, essentially, similar to exposing them to second-hand smoke. Does that sound a bit too dramatic to you? Well, here’s the deal: negativism produces stress chemicals in the brain, regardless of age. Therefore, when it is combined with a child’s natural negative inner voice, this bundle of negativity can, ultimately, lead to poor mental health.

Certainly, it is impossible to remove our children from any and all negative situations. Even though negativity is a natural part of life and a human’s genetic makeup, the good news is that parents, teachers, and caregivers can help shift this balance toward the positive. How might we do so? We can improve outcomes for kids by simply understanding how children become positive thinkers AND paying attention to how WE communicate. With each other. With them.

Three Easy Steps to Positivity

So, how exactly can adults help kids to achieve an optimal balance between negativity and positivity? How do we guide them towards becoming positive thinkers? We practice!

1) Start by Learning How to Have a Great Time

Spending time with those you love helps to deepen relationships. Unsurprising as it may sound, and regardless of the usual rigmaroles of our everyday lives, taking the time to plan family-fun-time reminds those around you just how much you mean to them. Thus, encouraging children to design a special day with family, or someone close to them, will make them happy. This happiness will help them to savor their positive experiences once they reflect on the things they most enjoyed. Parents and teachers can help guide them to this positive feeling by encouraging them to talk about their good times.

2) Speak to Them About Developing Themselves

It is when children imagine themselves at their best that their self-confidence increases. Parents and teachers can help children become their “best selves” by encouraging positive behavior and showing an interest in the kind of young people they want them to become. Find a moment when a child feels good about themselves and then help them remember those feelings and positive thoughts that they had previously experienced. Ask them about what, in particular, felt good to them. Then, turn around and tell them what you (parent or teacher) noticed about them.

3) Help Grow an Attitude for Gratitude

Children develop a sense of optimism and satisfaction once they learn to recognize and appreciate the “good things in life.” It can truly become a transformative and powerful experience when they are inspired to speak their gratitude aloud. Finding an attitude for gratitude is an excellent way to guide kids to becoming more positive.