Documenting Passion Roundup

baby n

If you’ve been following me the past week, you know that I’ve been observing my daughter’s interests and activities in an attempt to document her passions by asking the question “What does she gravitate toward?” And the point of all that is to unpack some truths about her core interests (as opposed to forming my own assumptions about her interests). It’s been tough, at times, to separate myself completely into the role of observer, but given that I charted this path for a full week, I think I’ve taken a good stab at picking up on some of the qualities that currently define my child’s interests. And I also recognize that as she further develops and is exposed to new ideas, she’ll change and grow over time.

An interesting development this past week are the observations of Aleksandra and Danielle (see their comments on the past few posts), who both spotted behavioral patterns in their children. Aleksandra saw that her son, Max, needs to find quiet moments in his day to give him a little bit of respite from high levels of activity. And Danielle observed an inherent need to spread materials, objects, and toys in her daughter, Simone.  Related to this, I observed that my child is a sorter: she likes to clean, organize, separate, and place objects in small containers; which has led me to give her plenty of like materials (fake apples, water bottles, ice cubes, etc.) to sort  and organize.

This project has also alerted me to activity interests, the most obvious being her desire to play-act. And she seems most interested in play-acting moments and events from her recent experience. For example, after making pancakes with her G-Ma last week, she spontaneously made sand pancakes in the park yesterday. We’ve also spent a lot of time prepping her for the arrival of her baby sister. In reaction to this, just this morning she crawled all over the house, refused to talk (because, you know, babies don’t talk), and then broke character to ask me to mash up her bananas so she could eat them like a baby. To see how she’s handling the influx of baby gear, check out the picture at the top of this post.  If I didn’t already see a pattern of imaginative play as a means of grappling with her daily reality, I may have been concerned about what could otherwise be interpreted as receding behavior. This is rather obvious stuff, I know, but it alerts me to help her capture defining moments from her experience and support them through imaginative play.

And perhaps one of the biggest eye-openers is that I’ve noticed that art-making activities, which are near and dear to me, have been virtually nonexistent over the past week.  While there have been moments of involuntary drawing and mark-making (tire rubbings at the DeCordova was a big hit), my child has been more invested in other activities. At no point did I jot down any notes like “wants to paint” or “excited about drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.” And there could be many reasons for this: the novelty factor may be low because we make art so often or she may be at the developmental stage where art is too passive and she’d rather keep moving. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop the art activities all together…my child is young and as she develops, her skills will catch up with her mind…but I am aware that I shouldn’t expect my child to love every activity I set before her.  All in all, following what N gravitates toward has been a worthwhile pursuit that has raised my awareness of her desires.  And for those of you who were playing along — please share how this all sorted out for you too!

On that note, more art and creative activities coming soon. :)

Finding Nature with Kids

outdoor abacus

Outdoor Abacus. Tot Spot, Children’s Discovery Museum, Sausalito

Although I grew up in the culturally-rich and naturally-poor concrete jungle of Los Angeles, I had the good fortune of having a wild backyard at my imaginative disposal. On the hillside of our rough-and-tumble yard, my parents thoughtfully installed a playhouse filled with nooks and crannies for storing treasures and a magical trap door, hidden beneath a rug, where we could escape into a dirt patch next to an apple tree. We built forts in the overgrown bushes, picked apricots, pears, and plums from our trees, and generally invented our own little universe in the world behind our house.

In contrast, 100 yards beyond our front door lay a busy intersection, replete with a fire station, liquor store, abandoned hospital, and a bar that opened at 6 am and advertised “live girls and pool.” Until I was about eight, I actually thought they had a swimming pool in there, and imagined girls floating around on rafts just beyond the saloon doors. Sigh. Despite our less than pastoral location, having access to a backyard wonderland filled me with a love of nature that one wouldn’t expect in a city child.

Similarly, you may live in a less-than-ideal spot with few options to take your kids on nature walks or let them roam the neighboring creek, and it could be helpful to peek at an idealized utopia of nature-play to seek some inspiration for fostering creativity in the great outdoors.

Playing with Mud and Water

To get us started, in their article, Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Nature (1), playground designer and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining their ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slides…a surprising observation in light of what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (2) and promote competition rather than co­operation (3).” (Play Outside. Public Schools of North Carolina.). Slides and swings are no doubt fun, but children will bore more quickly of these closed-ended activities than they will of open-ended play spaces like sandboxes, forts, ponds, and climbing trees that allow for plentiful interpretations.

Playground designer, Randy White shares a comprehensive and workable list of things that children prefer in outdoor environments. I’ve found that some of these ideas can be implemented on a small-scale, and that inspiration can be found for even the most lacking of outdoor spaces.  These are also great things to look for when searching for playgrounds or preschools that foster creative growth through outdoor play.

Basic Components of Naturalized Play Environments (4):

  • Water
  • Plentiful indigenous vegetation, including trees, bushes, flowers and long grasses that children can explore and interact with
  • Animals, creatures in ponds, butterflies, bugs
  • Sand, and best if it can be mixed with water
  • Diversity of color, textures and materials
  • Ways to experience the changing seasons, wind, light, sounds and weather
  • Natural places to sit in, on, under, lean against, climb and provide shelter and shade
  • Different levels and nooks and crannies, places that offer socialization, privacy and views
  • Structures, equipment and materials that can be changed, actually, or in their imaginations, including plentiful loose parts

References:

(1) White, Randy and Vicki Stoecklin, Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Nature. Early Childhood News magazine, March/April 1998.

(2) Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.

(3) Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.

(4) White, Randy. Young Children’s Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development & the Earth’s Future. Taproot, Fall/Winter 2006, Vol. 16, No. 2. The Coalition for Education in the Outdoors, Cortland, NY.

Resources

Play Outside: Recommended Resources for Outdoor Learning Environments. Inspiring quotes, articles, and research for parents and early childhood educators.

Outdoor Learning Environments. National Clearninghouse for Educational Facilities. A long, detailed list of articles, videos and research on outdoor learning spaces.