Archive of ‘Play-based Learning’ category

Observing Play in Nature

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. -Margaret Atwood

Observing children is beautiful.

When people ask, “What are you passionate about?” My honest answer would be, “Watching children play.”  However, there is a slightly creepy connotation to wording a passion that way stops me and I often spit out some more socially excepted verbiage like, “spending time in nature, play-based learning or even something broad like mindful parenting”. Ok, nobody really even asks what people’s passions are .. but they should!

But truly, observing play is such an incredible thing. It is like watching a series of mini miracles happen before your eyes.

Each movement leads to more development. Each word used connects to a bigger picture of the world. Each experience of free-play forms a unique little human.

Free-play in nature, in particular, sparks immense joy in children. And as parent, the opportunity to understand who your child is as a person during these moments outside is incredible. If children experience nature on a daily basis as a young child, they are in peace when they are outside. I have found as an educator, of children with behavioral and social needs, and as a parent that time outside releases something in them and you can see the true spirit of who they are.

One of my favorite lines in a book, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, is, “Who is my child in this moment?” This question is something that I try to ask myself multiple times a day. The practice of reflection and honoring their growth and true self has helped me connect and learn my daughter’s personality.

Charlotte Mason, a mindful educator of the 19th century, spoke beautifully about observing children. In her book, The Outdoor Life of Children, she said,  “This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their power of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment-” Her perspective is that it is the parent, or the educator, needs to be there for the children to observe their learning. They need to allow time for free-play but also be near for reflection and discussion. The balance that she creates is wonderful and requires such a conciois effort. This balance is also discussed in Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The line, “When we talk over and under and around a child- when we talk too much- there’s less space for their thoughts, for what they have to say” really stands out to me. Allowing the child to be deeply engrossed in play is a mindful practice. When do you speak and explain? When do you observe silently? When do you document? And when do you simply watch? These are questions only you can answer and reasonably change given the child and the situation.

But what do you observe? Everything.

How do their hands grasp the shovel?  

How they move around the root that they fell over yesterday? 

What new words are they saying when they sing a song to themselves?

What new skills are they learning when you introduce water to their bucket?

Do their eyes sparkle when they see a butterfly floating by?

Do they search the same area of the yard for the ant they saw last week?

When do they check in with you? When do they desire physical contact? When is eye-contact reassuring enough? 

When do they realize they have walked to another area of the woods and you are out of sight? 

Take a week to be mindful of your observations. You may even want to use a notebook to write them down after you walk back inside or when your child is engrossed in play. Notice the changes. Notice the patterns. And notice the incredible gift of playing in nature that you have given them. Remember that this is a practice and something to work on daily. You will notice that as you observe, you will become better at seeing small changes in your child’s development.

I would love to hear your observations if you are willing to share. Feel free to email me, Natasha@playfulbydesign.com, comment or message me on Instagram.

Prescription: Nature

“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.”

— Charlotte Mason

Prior to staying home with our daughter, I owned a company that worked with children with disabilities. Many of these students struggled with attention needs. Some of these attention needs were neurological and often the children were diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or a similar diagnosis. Other times the attention needs were simply a matter of explicit teaching of executive functioning skills, the child’s diet and supplement routine and… their time outside.

I will always remember the day when a beautifully polished mom of three elementary aged children stopped me as I hopping in my car after a long day of academic coaching. I was on the way to a meeting with a psychologist to discuss one of our shared clients whom was recently diagnosed with autism. My stomach was growling and my mind was running. But this mom had a certain level of concern in her voice and said something that stopped me in my tracks.
“Another mom told me that you prescribed their child to outdoor time for their ADHD child. Is that true?”
I remember throwing my heavy bag packed with books, my computer and play-based games in my car, taking a deep breath and taking a big sigh of relief. This is something worth discussing.
“Yes, I may be guilty of that,” I said half laughing, half hoping this conversation was going to be a humorous as I thought it was in my mind.
She readjusted her pearl necklace, nervously shuffled through the gravel parking lot with her heels and said, “Well I just had lunch with her and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… it is working”
“You sound surprised?”
“Well, let me just tell you that we have taken our child to three different psychologists, had him in tutoring for two years and we are still not seeing any changes. She told me to ask you to prescribe outdoor time to us too.”
At this point I couldn’t help but laugh. “Prescribe outdoor time” This is not a phrase that I had ever used but I loved it.
“Sure! Let’s meet for some coffee next week and I will write you up a prescription.”
And I did. I wrote up a behavior modification plan surrounded around executive functioning skills, with the main solution being more free time in nature. 
No special educational therapy. No additional tutoring hours, even though I owned a thriving mobile tutoring company. I actually told her to reduce some tutoring hours instead.
I helped her look at their family schedule to find big chunks of time that could be free-play time outside. I looked at their rhythm and helped her think through how they could simplify so time in the backyard was part of their daily flow rather than a luxury on weekends.
 I encouraged time to soak in some vitamin D, feel the earth under them and just be in nature.

Play Groups: Play-based Parents of Greenville

If you are local, we would love to have you join our playgroup. It is a group of parents and kids (5 and under) who get together to talk about education/parenting theories, play-based learning ideas and fun pure childhood fun. 

I built this group based on four truths:

  1. Children are meant to be raised in a community of caring friends and family.

2. Children deserve to learn through play.

3. Being in nature is good for the soul. 

4. Kindness should be spread and embraced.

Little did I know the incredible people that I would meet. Out meetings  are a beautifully chaotic mix of chatting about parenting philosophies and playing with our kids. Coffees are set down to tie shoes. Conversations are left to pick up a child from a hard fall off a bike. Book discussions are interrupted by us smiling and laughing at something cute the kids are doing.

To say the least, it’s not perfect. But in more ways that not, it is.

Together, we are building a community if parents who care. The kids are learning and playing… outside. And kindness is all around.

And I’m so very thankful.

If you haven’t already, please join us. Moms, dads, grandparents, nannies…. everyone is welcome.

Focus on Play

November is a month of thanks and reflection. It is a time to cherish the beautiful simplicity of childhood play. Everyday, I feel thankful to have the honor of being a parent and watching my little one grow and learn. Please join me this month for a photo challenge where we Focus on Play.  I will be featuring some parents that inspire me. To be featured on Instagram, simply use the hashtag #focusonplay and tag me, @Natashabgrogan on Instagram.screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-1-06-35-pm


 Feel free to share with family and friends! I am looking forward to learning and growing with you all as a Facilitator of Play!

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