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  • Friday, September 06, 2019 3:13 PM | Erin Scott

    Written by: K. Airy 

    During the 80s and 90s, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a kid that wasn’t running around outside playing in the streets or at local parks. However, nowadays things are a lot different.

    The development of mobile devices and other gadgets have ensured that the average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a screen. Popular games like Fortnite have children spending more of their lives indoors in front of a screen, rather than exploring outside. The detrimental effects of screen time have been demonstrated in numerous research studies, but as a parent and educator, you can break the cycle and encourage healthy habits, like spending time outdoors, from an early age. Trading screen time for green time has many psychological and developmental benefits for today’s children.

    The long-term effects of screen time are eye opening. In a study being conducted by the National Institute of Health (NSI), 11,000 kids between the ages of 9 and 10 were monitored for 10 years and some of the preliminary results are intriguing. One of the most significant finds by the study director, Dr Gaya Dowling was that children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests. As a result, excessive screen time can have a negative effect on children's academic performance. Other detrimental effects have also been linked to disrupted sleep and increased obesity. So, what are the benefits of letting children play outside?

    Whether it’s summer or winter, the benefits of going outside are both physical and mental. Monica Wiedel-Lubinksi notes how vitamin D from the sun is important for boosting the immune system and elevating mood. This becomes relevant for child development in the form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD occurs during the winter months where certain regions may see little sunshine, and can lead to depression and other mood disorders.

    Additionally, our natural instinct, known as biophilia, is a bond we share with all creatures and plants and has led researchers to believe that spending time in nature can improve mental health and promote healing. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that at a children’s hospital in California with a healing garden had a positive effect on 85% of patients. Children reported better overall mental wellbeing after spending just five minutes in the garden.

    Studies have also demonstrated positive effects in learning and education, as well as mental health benefits,  as a result of being outdoors. A study conducted at the University of Stavanger in Norway on the effects of the outdoor learning found that students who participated in an outdoor education program reported significantly more intrinsic motivation to learn and felt more competent. Additionally, stress levels were shown to be lower among students who spent one day a week learning outdoors, compared to those who spent the entire week studying indoors. This is partly because outdoor environments offer a unique mental stimulus that captures a child’s attention. The outdoors also presents opportunities to exceed personal limits, like climbing a tree. Risky play also promotes important skills related to persistence, self-knowledge and problem-solving. 

    Maryville University indicated how increasing research in psychology and education draws correlations to improved learning and success. The message is clear: take kids out on a regular basis. Just half an hour a day is enough to catch kids' interest in learning and will have numerous other positive psychological and physiological effects.

    So how do we find ways to get kids outside in nature while not completely cutting them off from technology? The answer is at home.

    Parents can limit screen time and teach kids healthy habits early on by spending time outside as a family and keeping children’s outdoor time unstructured. Simple activities like playing in the park going out for a bike ride or having a picnic in your backyard, are enough to get children interested and curious about the outdoors. Day trips and camping vacations are a great way to have your children disconnect from technology temporarily and experience what nature has to offer.

    Children are naturally inquisitive and nature provides endless stimuli for them to ask questions and learn. Encourage children to find the answer themselves by asking engaging, open-ended questions. This way they will develop an authentic relationship with nature through their own exploration and experiences.

  • Thursday, May 16, 2019 10:49 AM | Erin Scott

    Our pals at the Natural Start Alliance have published another fantastic (and FREE!) online journal. It includes an editorial from ERAFANS director Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, too. Enjoy this great free resource! Follow this link to check out the journal.

  • Friday, May 03, 2019 11:10 AM | Erin Scott

    Written by: Heidi Reed, Director at One Forest

    As parents, caregivers, and educators we are in constant motion with baby-proofing, screening, and guiding our children through risks in their world. One risk that holds a lot of fear is that of a tick bite.  It istruly amazing how this small arachnid can cause such a big fear. The fear is real!  I have done extensive research on ticks, have completed my Wilderness First Aid training, and have spent much time in the outdoors.  Even still my motherly protective instinct goes into full worry mode when I see a tick crawling on a child’s skin and worse when it has already latched on.  Being in the woods and in many natural settings, ticks are inevitable.  However, there are some all-natural methods to keep your cool and stay safe.

    First, it’s about prevention.  It’s always good to try to wear long pants and long sleeves when exploring.   BUT kids love to get naked and I am not going to stop them from feeling wild and free!

    Alternatively, you can spray them with an all-natural bug spray with deterring essential oils.  I personally use California Baby’s Bug
    Repellent [10] for babies and Doterra Terrashield Outdoor Blend [11] for young children and adults.  Here [12] is some research the CDC collected on natural tick repellents.   Also, the EPA has a great search engine [13] that helps determine how long products last and
    whether they are better for ticks or mosquitos.
     
    Check for ticks after leaving a tick habitat.  Baths are good ways to secretly check for ticks during the tick seasons – March to mid May and August to November. They are looking for the warm areas on the body (behind ears, under arms, groin area, etc.).

    If you find a tick grab a pair of good tweezers, or use a tick remover, and quickly pull it out (as close to the skin as possible). Make sure that the whole body of the tick is removed - including its head.   It takes a long time for ticks to transmit disease into their host (your child).  If you remove the tick within a few hours of it attaching the chances of getting a disease are very very low.

    I like to keep the ticks we find in the season on a piece of clear
     
    tape for further inspection and study.
     
    Signs of Lyme disease are a rash around the bite location, a feeling of heavy body and limbs, and other flu-like symptoms.  If you suspect you have Lyme disease it is better to see a doctor sooner rather than later.
     
    It is important that we don’t create a fear of ticks in our children.  Being educated, aware, and respectful of these creatures is important, but I believe we can do this in a way of wonder. Finding the language that works best for you and your family can help achieve a playful wonder so we can foster the childs curiosity and respect rather than their fear. In our family we would say something like this “That silly tick found your skin.  We better
    take it off and put it someplace else.” … Or  “ Wow! That tick is really cool.  Let’s take it off your skin so we can get a better look at it.”  Then you put it on clear tape to observe the tick with a magnifying glass or microscope.
     
    There are three ticks that you can find in Virginia. 1) Blacklegged Tick, 2) Lone Star Tick, and 3) American Dog Tick. Some cool facts about ticks are that they are arachnids and not insects because they have eight legs and no antennae.  They are also an important part of their ecosystem providing food for birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Maybe you and your child can find more cool facts about ticks! 

    So get outside and leave the fear behind.


    TICK ID:

    http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/12/2016/10/Tick_borne_Disease_Flyer.pdf

    About the Author: Heidi Reed, Founder and Head Forest School Leader of One Forest, a forest farm and woodland activity space located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When she is not leading programs in the woods at One Forest you will find her traveling, with her family, across the glob sharing her passion for nature. Follow her outdoor adventures on Instagram @one.forest


  • Wednesday, March 20, 2019 10:22 AM | Erin Scott

    Written by: Rachel Schwartzman, Director/ Lead teacher of Forest Days

    “This is the log where I saw two worms come out.  I was a little scared to pick them up, but I did."

    On a recent day during an “indoor forest choice time,” many children chose to make maps. Maps can teach us so many things.  Through the map, we get a window into the child’s understanding of place, and how they are making meaning of their time in the forest.  

    • What do they remember?  
    • How do they arrange the landmarks in relation to each other? 
    • Are they including themselves and others? 
    • What elements from the natural have they noticed and where?   
    • Does their map show imagination or scientific representation?
    • What is chosen to be large and small?
    • What emotions have they included?
    • What is holding the most meaning to them?


    “This is the see saw that I made.  This is the log we always climb on.”






    “This is where we walk in.  This is the circle where we sing and these are the logs.  This is a tree and these are the seeds and that’s a squirrel.  These are the stick houses and these are the leaves.  This is the log that we climb up.  These are the logs that we have to step on.  This is me sitting down in my sit spot.”


    I find the making of maps to be a valuable tool for the teachers and the children toward deepening our understand of our work in the forest.  Ideally, we will return to map making throughout the year in many different ways.  Maybe we will make a model of our “forest school” back in the classroom out of clay or natural materials.  Maybe we will make maps of the best places to find acorns or seed pods.  Maybe we will make maps of the animal tracks that we find on our paths.  The possibilities are vast, and the format of representing thinking through maps is accessible, relatable and powerful!

  • Thursday, January 17, 2019 6:47 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Rachel Schwartzman, Director/Lead Teacher of Forest Days

    Through a steady diet of asking the children, “What do you notice?”  and “what do you wonder?,” the children’s perception of the environment and their role in it has dramatically changed in these 12 weeks.  We have moved from utilizing the space as solely playground (which is also important and valuable), to engaging with all that we see through the eyes of curiosity.

    Macintosh HD:Users:rachelschwartzman:Desktop:IMG_2406.JPGWe are forming habits of mind in the forest. Beyond the skills and facts that will surely accumulate, it is the orientation toward learning that we seek to cultivate most.

    Today, I had a long conversation with a child about a clump of soil with leaves stuck to it that he had picked up and brought to me.  Unprompted, he stated his observations: “The ice is never melting,” and “There are leaves stuck to this.” We looked closely with a flashlight and a hand lens to try to figure out more.  His genuine curiosity about this object he had found and chosen to pick up struck me. On another day, this would easily have been passed by, but today, he is paying closer attention to the environment.  He is choosing his topics of research. He is growing knowledge that will be layered on in the weeks to come. His relationship to the forest is becoming one of interest, curiosity and engagement.
  • Sunday, December 02, 2018 9:01 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    By Rachel Schwartzman, Director/Lead Teacher of Forest Days

    On a recent day in the forest, a child picked up a yellow green object from the ground.  It was about the size of a softball, and the surface was wiggly and bumpy, almost like a pile of green worms formed into a fruit.  She brought it to me and asked, “Teacher, what is this?” My response was to ask her, “What do you think it is?”  She asserted that she did not know, and so I probed a bit further…”What color is it?  How does it feel?  Smell?  Where did you find it?” 

    This conversation brought a larger group of children around to see what we were discussing.  A rich conversation about the identity of this object ensued. One child suggested, “Maybe it’s a home for bugs” while another stated, “I think it’s fruit that grew on a tree.”   Some children went on hunts to see if they could find the location of where the object came from, and someone found one that was cracked open and we explored the inside which contained tiny seeds.  A group of children decided to plant them to see what would happen. 

    A colleague and I got into an interesting conversation about how I had responded to the simple question: “What is it?”  She wondered why I had chosen not to tell the child the fact:  It is an Osage orange.  I suspect, if I had told the child that answer, the conversation would have ended there.  What would the child have learned?  And what message does she receive if all questions and answers end with an adult.

    By turning the question around, and engaging with the children on a journey of more questions, what messages did they receive? 

    ·      I can have ideas and theories

    ·      It’s okay to be wrong

    ·      My friends can have ideas and theories

    ·      We can look for clues to help us make theories

    ·      We can test our theories

    ·      The teacher is not the only source for answers to my questions

    As teachers, our job is to ignite the fire.  To create a culture of curiosity, conversation and debate.  To value the perspectives of others and their thinking.  Our job is so much more than delivering answers. 

    Now the children have an authentic relationship to Osage orange through their own exploration.  They know some things about this object that they discovered themselves.  And, on another day, if we happen to discover the name of Osage orange in a book, the words become much more meaningful. 


  • Thursday, October 18, 2018 11:29 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Rachel Schwartzman, Director/Lead Teacher of Forest Days

    “Are you trickin’ me?” A child asked, after I informed the kindergarten class that we would be having school in the forest together on Wednesdays.  I promised him that this wasn’t a trick, and that in fact, the next week we would meet at the entrance to the trail to the forest.  We would travel to a big gate which I would open with a key, and that we would enter the forest and find our “forest classroom.”  I showed the children photographs of the logs, trees, stumps and sticks, and asked them: “What do you think you will play here?”

    I will climb!  I will hide!  I will make that my house!  Their ideas came easily, although many of these children voiced that they had never been to a forest before.  Their natural curiosity and excitement, and desire to learn and play was apparent even before we stepped foot into the forest together.

    Sure enough, the children needed no directions or prompts to know how to play and engage in the forest.  Day one was rich with all of the ideas they had imagined, plus numerous more which emerged.  The climbing, hiding, and dramatic play was accompanied by collecting and building.  There was joy in holding a giant stick twice their own size.  There was the challenge of climbing huge logs and finding a way down.  And, there was so much interest and delight in finding and holding worms, leading to many “homes” built for the worms.

    A teacher commented that she was concerned the children might be bored by so much unstructured time.  And yet, I have found that unstructured time in the highly rich forest environment is the exact condition for children to be highly engaged and focused.

    We are just at the beginning of something new, together. The teachers, children and I are learning about what the forest can teach us and what stories and relationships we will grow in this new landscape.




  • Sunday, July 15, 2018 3:35 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Blog post and photos by Melissa Sheppard, Founder of Star Child Nature School, Shamung, NJ 

    My feeling of aloneness in my beliefs and in this field is apparently not unique.   Upon discovering the term and philosophy “Nature Based Education” about a year ago, I thought it was well established and happening for years before I came across it and would simply be jumping on board.  

    As it turns out, teaching children through nature in school and child care settings is still very much in its infancy in the U.S.  Yes, some schools have been teaching outdoors for years, but many more are just beginning.  This means a great deal to me personally as I am older, and I often feel like I’m coming in later than everyone else.  I see young faces and think that by the time they are my age they will know so much - yet I am just at the beginning.  

    Upon completing this five-day Nature-Based Teacher Certification, for the first time I feel hopeful to be one of many founders, which gives me confidence in my work and in myself.  This week our whole group was given permission and encouragement to learn as we go. I can’t think of a better way to show respect, compassion and humility than learning together, side-by-side, with my students and am very much looking forward to doing so.

     

  • Wednesday, May 03, 2017 3:12 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Guest post by: Maryfaith Decker Miller, Director
    Lime Hollow Forest Preschool/Forest School, NY

    We are a new forest school, only in our third year of operation, but Lime Hollow Forest Preschool has been growing quickly. We sent two gifted teachers, and myself, the director to the 2017 Natural Wonder Summit at New Canaan Nature Center. This was the first conference we had ever been to for nature-based early childhood education. We were excited to share ideas with other forest school educators and the summit surpassed our expectations! 

    There were lots of practical ideas. We like to have tea everyday in the forest, but it can easily take an hour to start a fire with flint and steel and get water boiling. And what if we want warm tea AND a hike? New Canaan Nature Center Preschool's Kelly Kettle solution was really quite brilliant. We learned new songs to sing, new games to play, and how to use mindfulness. We shared strategies on how to minimize wear and tear on our natural areas where children like to play. It was great to share ideas with other educators about problems common to us all: children's winter clothing challenges, parent's fears about nature, compliance with licensing regulations. 

    A more subtle and powerful result of the conference, though, was the reinforcement of our truths.  Emergent curriculum (flow learning, child-led learning, place based learning) is highly effective. Unstructured time in nature is critically important to a child's development of a sense of their place in our natural world. What we are doing is counter-culture, but we are not alone in our mission. There is data to help us justify the risk/reward decisions we make everyday. I can tell you that our Lime Hollow Forest Preschool team returned to the forest centered, fortified in our mission, recharged and ready to joyfully receive our young students after the Natural Wonder Summit.

  • Sunday, April 02, 2017 7:39 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    I am thrilled to reflect on our first Natural Wonder Summit! 

    With some 85 people in attendance, it was a day full of positive energy, puddles, a smoky campfire, and passionate nature-based early childhood educators. Click here for more photos.

    The New Canaan Nature Center Preschool kindly hosted in New Canaan, CT. The summit took place in their quaint, airy visitor center with lunch tours of buildings that house six nature preschool classrooms. The NCNPS enjoys expansive grounds dotted with evergreens, birch and beech trees, as well as small ponds, old stone walls, an orchard and farm animals. The NCNCP celebrates fifty years as a licensed nature preschool in 2017 – arguably America’s oldest. It was an ideal location to usher in the start of ERAFANS teacher professional development while acknowledging a nature preschool that blazed a trail for so many others.

    The day began with a mindfulness hike through the forest, led by staff from NCNCP. Deep breathing, a Tibetan singing bowl, and visualizing activities brought awareness to the senses. Participants concentrated on being present for the day as they discovered mindfulness activities to try with the children in their care.



    The keynote presentation was offered by Ken Finch, former director of the New Canaan Nature Center, founder of Green Hearts, and long-time advocate for wild nature play. He shared inspiring words and statistics about nature play and the recent lack thereof, evolutionary-speaking. He pointed out that despite the fears of some parents about young children playing outdoors, 8,000 children are injured each year from flat screen televisions falling over!

    Finch asserted that much of the hyper vigilance about dangers in nature is fueled by the constant bombardment of media. Finch argued, however, that these fears are largely unwarranted based on crime statistics that demonstrate declining crime rates over the last fifty years. He humorously ascribed the many benefits of risk-taking in outdoor play, noting that emotional bonds are essential if we want children to grow into adults who care about the natural environment. In his words, he’s “trying to save the world” and giving young children authentic playful experiences in nature is crucial to that goal.

    Finch also made a clear distinction between risks (those a child can determine and act on, with real developmental benefits) versus hazards (things a child cannot foresee and present serious injury unless avoided). Participants gathered around the campfire for an informal question and answer session following Finch's remarks.

     Workshops explored topics including fire-starting and brewing tea with young children, documentation of skills in nature play, and forest games in the tradition of the Coyote’s Guide to Mentoring. All of the workshops were incredible and engaging! Presenters hailed from organizations representing many of ERAFANS founding members. Each offered a unique lens for outdoor learning which practitioners could approach from any number of settings: nature preschools, forest kindergartens, traditional preschools or day cares, public schools, or nature-based in-home childcare settings.

    The day concluded with a plenary speech given by me, Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, Executive Director of ERAFANS. I shared thoughts centered on three ideas: trust, power and optimism as they relate to nature-based teaching practices and young children. (I will go into greater detail about my plenary in another post!)

    The day ended with honors for Jessica Clayton of Riverside Rhymes Nature Play School, who won our first Wonder Award. Dinner, fantastic networking and s’mores rounded out the day. Today we are completing the summit at the Westbrook Nature School - more details to follow on our visit!

    If you want to join us for a great training experience like this one, or if you want to host something in your region, just ask. ERAFANS will bring it to your door step!

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