When outside time does not allow time with the “outside”

Being in my field, I always pay attention to early learning centers and schools while driving around.  Obviously, since I can only see the outside of the center from my car, I pay close attention to the design and makeup of the playgrounds.

I am amazed at how many school playgrounds have nothing …. natural.  The playground equipment is metal and plastic.  The toys are metal and plastic.  The bicycles are metal and plastic.  The ground is rubber.  No part of nature is available at all when children go outside to play.  No grassNo sandNo trees or plantsNo wood.  And, due to awnings that cover the entire playground, some of them allow no access to the sun.

Author Richard Louv introduced the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in 2005 with the publication of his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He coined the phrase to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from nature and it is not meant to be a medical diagnosis (although perhaps it should be).

In a time when children are staying inside attached to digital technology more than ever, the least schools can do is provide actual access to the natural outside world.

The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need. – Richard Louv

What can schools do?  Bring back the sand box.  Plant some grass.  Provide loose parts made out of wood, rocks, sticks, shells, and really anything that comes from the outside world.  Use wood mulch for the ground covering.  Just think natural.

What can we do at home?  The same thing.

We know children need to playing more, but let’s make sure they are also interacting with nature as well!


Here are some great blog posts to give some ideas for a natural playground.

How to Create Natural Playscapes

Ideas for Adding Natural Play Elements to Your Outdoor Play Space

Create a Natural Playscape in Your Own Backyard







The Lost Art of Handwriting

The NY Times published the article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” by Maria Konnikova discussing the topic many debate, does handwriting matter?  In my opinion, it is not necessarily the debate for good penmanship and formal writing instruction, but instead, the process of writing and how that experience positively stimulates the brain.

“The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.”

An interesting point made in the article is the difference in brain activity when children participated in free writing opposed to tracing the letters.  I am not a fan of dot-to-dot/ tracing pages for letter writing instruction before the age of five due to it not being developmentally appropriate from a physical standpoint.  According to the research presented in the article, there seems to be evidence that those worksheets do not support brain development either!

So, how then do we support handwriting and emerging writers?

For actual handwriting, allow for ample movement at home and school.   Ensure infants get plenty of tummy time.  Let your children climb and play outdoors.  Turn off the screens and encourage them to crawl around on the floor and play with blocks, trains, cars, dolls or whatever they choose.  Provide materials that strengthen the hand muscles such as puzzles, tweezers, tongs, or any type of manipulative material.  By doing this, children’s bodies will be given the opportunity to develop and support the physical demands of handwriting.

As for the emerging writer, allow for plenty of scribbling, drawing, and appreciate the attempt at writing letters freehand when your child chooses to do so.  Give your children blank paper and crayons, and let them draw until they are content.  When they are finished, don’t ask, “What is it?”, but instead say, “Tell me about this”.  Want to extend it further?  Write what your child says and make sure he/ she watches you do so.  What a powerful connection to see spoken words turn into written words and realize that text carries meaning!

With these developmentally appropriate approaches, children will be able to enter school with strong foundational skills to support successful writing!


Blocks – Physically Speaking

In a snapshot ……..

When playing with blocks, what is developing physically?

  • Small and large motors
  • Range of motion
  • Eye–body coordination skills
  • Visual – motor coordination skills
  • Spatial awareness and balance

Why is this important?

  • Helps develop the body and enables it to write!
  • Strengthens the core muscles and equips it to sit at group time and in a chair!
  • Enhances visual motor skills and the vestibular system to assist in the coordination of reading and writing!

Just some more great reasons to go play with blocks!