Blah. I hate winter. I have always disliked this time of year. Cold weather is fun around Christmas because it feels festive, but now it just feels cold. It's especially hard with little kids what with all the bundling up and limitations on how long we can stay out in the elements.
I was just thinking that we are missing our outdoors time when I received the January newsletter from the Featherstone Education company. As a former teacher (and current teacher of my babies, thank you) I keep myself abreast of current "education" happenings and info. I found Featherstone when I was teaching kindergarten, and have kept my eye on them ever since. It's a wonderful little company based in England that is focused on early childhood education. Their best products (IMHO) are their "little books." There is the Little Book of Outdoor Play, the Little Book of Treasure Baskets, and the Little Book of Celebrations. (Plus tons of others.) Some are available through Amazon.com- those are the ones I have purchased. I am impressed by the fresh and fun ideas in these books and highly recommend them to others with little ones.
In fact, my new standard birthday present for 1 year olds is a "touch basket" which I read about in the Little Book of Treasure Baskets. The idea is that you fill a basket with tactile things- brushes, swatches of different fabrics, natural objects such as pinecones, shells, and leaves, foil, wax paper, etc. (Of course, careful not to include any choking hazards.) Let me tell you- babies love these things! And so do their parents. It's a nice, creative gift that can occupy a young toddler for quite a while!
Anyway, as I read the editorial by Sally Featherstone, I was struck again by the importance of getting our children out into the world on a daily basis. In fact, that belief was one of the things that prompted us to chose the house we are renting: it has a cool backyard. The guy who owns the house has a green thumb, and he planted the backyard with all kinds of plants that create little hidey-holes and paths throughout the yard. At first glance, I thought, "Ooh- not enough room to run around." But as I considered it further, I realized that the yard we had before, and never enjoyed, was a huge strip of grass. Boring! So I am curious to see how my children respond to this new yard so full of green things and squirrels and secret spots.
This excerpt from the Featherstone newsletter really got me thinking:
"Most boys (and some girls) only really come to life when they are in the garden – able to move with freedom, use their imaginations, stretch their muscles and experience things with all their senses. It is not only their bodies that are stimulated by the combined effects of space, time and freedom, outdoor play actually stimulates the brain to grow.
Ronald Kotulak, in his book ‘Inside the Brain’, says:
“The discovery that the outside world is indeed the brain’s real food is intriguing. The brain gobbles up its external environment in bits and chunks through its sensory system: vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Then the digested world is reassembled in the form of trillions of connections between brain cells that are constantly growing or dying, or becoming stronger or weaker, depending on the richness of the banquet.”
And this is particularly true of the natural environment out of doors, and effect that was realised well before the brain research confirmed the instincts of pioneers in early education. Nearly 200 years ago, Friedrich Froebel put the garden at the centre of his philosophy, calling it the Kindergarten (a garden for children), with outdoor and natural experiences at the heart of provision. His work is now reflected in provision across the world, where outdoor play is seen as an essential component of high quality provision in nurseries, daycare and schools.
It's so true, and yet how often do we spend months (even years) planning and designing the interiors of our homes while (almost) totally ignoring our outdoor spaces? It's making me do a lot of thinking about what I want our backyard to be at our next house. It's also making me find the coats, hats and gloves. We're going outside.