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"Play is nature's training for life."
                    (Lloyd George, 1925)
In this section we are hoping to highlight how children can play freely, in everyday situations. As the play facilitator in this situation it is your role to allow your child to have this spontaneous play experience, without any unreasonable intervention. The play maybe messy, dirty, noisy or of no apparent value. All of this is okay and children need to work through these situations without any adult angst. When your child is allowed to play freely, the benefits in terms of your child's physical, social, creative, intellectual and emotional health, are huge.


At recess last week Brenda, an Educational Assistant, stood on a carpet of red and yellow leaves and watched several seven- and eight-year-olds hanging about nearby.
        "Don't you play in the leaves?" she asked them.
        They stared from her to each other to the leaf-strewn field and shook their heads.
        "We used to jump in the leaves," she told them.
        "You did?"
        "We gathered leaves," she assured them. "We piled them up into a huge heap and then we jumped in them."
        "Really, and then we'd make them back into a big pile and jump in them again. Did you never do that?"
        "How do we do this?" the children asked. She showed them how to move leaves into a pile using hands and feet.
        Off they shot across the field. Brenda wondered, how is it that kids nowadays had not heard of, nor even thought of, jumping in a pile of leaves? Is this not something that everyone grows up doing?
        Are kids so disconnected with their environment, so limited to a tidy backyard? Brenda worked at one time in an after-school program where neither the program nor the kids' families had much money. So they played with whatever came to hand-including leaves, in season. Piles of them.
        As the recess buzzer sounded, the kids ran back to Brenda, puffed and pink-cheeked and dotted all over with bits of bright leaves and mud. "We had soooo much fun." The children informed her that they had found another way to play ing leaves and that was to throw them over each other.
        "Can we do this at lunch time?"
        She watched them tear away into school, shook her head and smiled.

November 16th, Richmond, B.C, Canada.

Last Child in the Woods:
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

Richard Louv

Ever wonder where children’s sense of wonder has gone? In his book, The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv examines the ever-widening disconnection between today’s children and the natural world.

In the last thirty years, Louv explains, we have changed our world far too quickly for human evolution to change with it. Humans evolved largely in close contact with the natural world, and children, although mostly raised in cities and suburbs, remain genetically hard-wired to be outside in green spaces. Simply put, human children are not designed to sit in front of computer screens.

And yet, says Louv, in order to enrich children’s lives, we whisk them to activities rich in art, sport, music or mathematics and leave them little time to play freely outside. We keep them close to home, safe under our vigilant eyes, so that independence and opportunities to judge risk are checked. We buy more technology and more toys, but allow less tree climbing and exploration. Yet, because children are designed to be active, what every parent is trying to give them—a happy, healthy childhood—is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.

In schools, Louv sees a similar disconnection. Our adult generation works hard to teach children a sense of responsibility towards the environment, urging preservation of the insects and birds rainforest with the help of every available technology, but seldom encouraging equally close looks at insect or bird life outside the classroom window. Children are kept at a distance from nature, all the while being told to cherish it.

For parents, playworkers and educators who sense that children are losing their physical contact and intimacy with nature, The Last Child in the Woods offers recent research, informed opinion and, above all hope and practical help towards establishing a healthy, wonder-filled connection between children and the natural world.

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
a division of Workman Publishing, New York.
isbn – 13:978-1-56512-522-3

Reviewed by Mark Halden and Mel Anastasiou.


webassets/fire.jpgHot Topic.

Ancient (Recapitulative) Play.

Over the last couple of decades, the amount of time that kids spend playing outside, per day has decreased from an average to four hours per day to about half an hour per day. This means more of a disconnection from their environment than has ever happened before, in the history of the human race. Children don’t get the chances to experience the feel of the wind, the texture of the earth, play in ponds, rivers and streams, nor experience the element of fire, which has been the human race’s crowning achievement, enabling them to provide heat, cook food, make tools, create the high tech society in which we live today.

Ancient or Recapitulative Play as described by Bob Hughes (A Playworker's Taxonomy of Play Types 2002) argues that as man has developed over the millennia, the skills that have been honed, making the human race so successful as a species, are laid down in the human gene. So survival skills, etc are still in our genes and need someway of being expressed. The skills that we develop in our lives to adapt and survive as a species, will be laid down in our genes for the survival of our children.

Out of children’s need to experience these elements, might come behaviours that appear on the surface, to be anti-social or even bordering on the criminal, such as the need to light fires. However if children don’t get to experience of lighting fires, for example, they will find an opportunity to experiment with it, and it will probably be at the wrong time and in an inappropriate place. How much better that kid’s have an opportunity, under supervision, to build, light, cook on, sing around, keep warm by, an open fire. Learning the dangers of fire by being involved with it, where it is appropriate to use it, creating a respect and understanding for this most fundamental of elements.

How much better for kids to experience fire this way, than to experiment with it on their own.

Play Types.

* Mastery Play

* Ancient (Recapitulative) Play 

* Exploratory Play

* Deep Play 


‘Our streets too’.

In the UK last summer, the theme of national Playday, was ‘our streets too’.  The theme was chosen to highlight the need for our streets and neighbourhoods to be much more child friendly, enabling children to once again be able to play in those streets, as had been the case for previous generations.  (see Playday link below) Playday is an annual nationwide event that happens on the first Wednesday in August, to celebrate ‘the child’s right to play’, where schools, clubs, neighbourhood groups, Councils, and many other children’s organisations arrange an outdoor ‘play event’ in their local neighbourhood, town or city. One the largest to be held in England was in Trafalgar Square, London, being organised by the Mayor’s office. Why not consider organising an event of this type, in your neighbourhood, school or city!

As with much of Northern Europe, the UK is implementing traffic calming measures in areas where children live and play, and also the more comprehensive idea of Home Zones, making the whole living environment much child friendly.  Changes to the living environment have come about through pressure and action, from parents, local community groups, schools and children’s organisation on local, regional and national government. For North America, look at the projects that are happening in California, (see playborhood link below) where local people have been able to influence changes in their neighbourhood. Parents involved in this particular project are also influencing a change of life style in their children, getting them away from a sedentary existence, to a healthier and more active outdoor life, where they can play freely in their neighbourhood.

New Year Resolutions.

Many of the festivities for the winter period are over. It’s been cold outside and cozy indoors.  Maybe your kids have spent a great deal of time sitting around the house, playing with new electronic gizmos, playing computer games, or watching television. As well, they may have consumed a great deal of food and drink over that period.

Now is the time to resolve to get them to play out in the fresh air, to do something active.  We are not advocating that you plan anything, as children will invariably find something to do, especially if their friends are around.  Just allow them the freedom to play.

If there really is no where for your child to play locally, (no backyard, street or local park) then maybe you could allow them to go or take them to the nearest green space, whether it be a park, woodland, river or stream.  Ideally children need to play freely, without overt adult supervision, so be prepared to take a back seat.

It’s worth remembering that children need at least one hour per day of physical activity, so try and build this free play time into your child’s day. Playing in this way consumes more energy than most organised sports. In the UK, the government has begun to question why, although huge amounts of money has been pumped into sport, the incidence of childhood obesity is still on the rise. This conclusion points towards the fact that children don’t have enough active play time. So it is that they have begun to redirect significant amounts of money into play facilities such as staffed adventure playgrounds, after school clubs and holiday play schemes.

As most of us are aware, there is now great concern about the rise in obesity in children not only in North America, but in the UK and Europe. This, in its turn, has led to a significant rise in type 2 diabetes, previously a rare event during childhood.  The reasons for the changes are by and large due to a change in children’s physical activity levels and dietary habits. Children now spend a much greater proportion of their free time involved in sedentary past times, rather than running around outside, as would have happened only a generation ago. Not only is playing freely outside, of physical benefit to children, but it also plays a major role in reducing the rising incidence of mental health issues amongst the young.

Research also shows that children need the experience of ‘green spaces’, and indeed it has been demonstrated that children diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD have fewer symptoms after playing in outdoor green spaces.
University of Illinois

So get your children outside. Dress them appropriately for the weather, and in clothes that they can get dirty in, and allow them the freedom to play.

Play types
*exploratory play
*locomotor play
*mastery play 

Sand Play

Most of us will remember playing with sand at some point in our lives, be it in a sand tray at pre-school, in a sand box, on the beach or even a big pile of sand ready to be used by construction workers.

Remember days on the beach, digging as deep as you could, just for the sake of it. Building sand castles, rivers, dams, drawing faces, burying your friends and family, gave hours of fun. But it was also a way of being creative, a way to explore and manipulate the environment. Sand is also used in the world of therapy, because of its versatile and natural make-up.

However, many children are now not able to take part in this vital play experience…schools are removing sand trays and boxes, as are parks departments etc., often citing mess and maintenance as the reasons for not having these facilities.

So why not build one in your back yard, or get together with other parents to build one at your child’s school. It’s cheap to build and if you build a roof over the top, you have an all year round play facility. Yes, it will require some work to keep it in good condition, but the play value your child will get from it, is immense.

Or simply have an indoor sand tray/box, which is available to your children to use whenever they feel the need. Again easily constructed from lumber and plywood.  Ideally, there should be a supply of loose parts in and around the tray (anything from drinking straws to wooden blocks) and number of receptacles (cups, buckets, egg cups, for example) from which the children can construct, draw, write, or what ever appeals to their imaginative and creative minds. Ideally, there should also be a supply of water close by, in order to complete the experience…it’s much more challenging and satisfying to play with wet sand. 

Just watch how this activity absorbs most children, and can provide a calming environment if a child is anxious or upset.

Questions will arise about young children eating sand, they won’t do it very often…it is the way they learn. If the child is young and this is it’s first experience of sand play, then it is advisable to keep an eye on then, but they will soon learn how to deal with this element.  The issue of throwing sand is something that has to be addressed, but without interfering in the play, to any degree.

Maintenance will consist of regular raking, topping up. If you have a cover for external sand boxes when they are not being used, so much the better, as this reduces the chances of contamination. Being responsible for the sand box/tray can become part of the play experience for the child, but without it becoming a chore.

Play types
*exploratory play
*locomotor play
*mastery play 
*see our page on the types of play—intriguing to watch for. Edit Text

webassets/rainplay.jpgPlaying in the Rain.

As a child, did you play in the rain?  Do you remember the feeling of battling with the elements, and maybe getting wet and cold, with your boots full of water and then squelching home to warm clothes and a hot drink. Feeling the after glow on your face, where the rain had been pounding on your cheeks.

Do you allow your kids that same enjoyment?

Playing with the elements is an essential part of the healthy development of a child. It helps the child come to terms with, and be comfortable in, it’s environment.

Exploration may take the form of jumping in puddles, making streams, building dams, making mud pies and glory of glories, a mud-slide. They may even build shelters, as we discussed in the ‘den building’  idea (issue 3). As with the ‘den building’ leave as many loose parts around as possible. You could include, buckets and shovels, and things to float.

Yes the kids will probably get filthy and wetter than they intended, however, both kids and clothes will wash. Research in the UK shows that colds are more likely to develop being warm room with lots of people around, than being out in the cold and rain. As a 94 year old friend once said, ‘kids aren’t made of sugar--they won’t melt!”

Dress the kids with appropriate clothing and let them get out there.

Playing with the elements could extend outside the home or play area, to school and the journey to school. Many parents are now recognising the health and social benefits of allowing their kids to walk to and from school. Why not allow them to do this even if it is raining, rather than getting the car out. At school, encourage the administration to allow the kids out to play at recess, even if it is raining. The benefits to the child are that they will have burned of excess energy and gives them a break from the classroom environment. The benefits for the teacher will be more attentive students and better behaved class ready to learn. Of course the downside of this, for the school, is that a member of staff has to be outside in the rain with the kids.

Remember kids need at least 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity per day. They will get more exercise from this type of free play, in this period, than through organised sport, with the added benefit of being in control of their own play, without any specific goal to achieve.

As with all forms of free play, the child should be the one to choose what they do. Your role is to facilitate their play and not organise. Take pleasure in watching from a distance, the way your kids play….or if you feel confident enough, just let them get on with it. They will let you know if they need your help.  If you are used to being involved with your kids play on a regular basis, just try to take a step back and allow them the space to play. There will be times when your kids want you to play with them, but it should be their decision to include you.

Play types:

Recapitulative Play *
Object Play*
Imaginative Play*
Mastery Play*
Social Play*

Den building.

All children love to build, to have somewhere either of their own, away from adults, or somewhere secret to share with their friends.

You may have built dens as a child, using materials left lying around, either in  your back yard,  or in your favourite play space.

How about starting to collect some loose parts, like cardboard boxes, tarps, wooden pallets and scraps of wood, rope, string, cardboard tubes (carpet shops are usually good for those), old tyres (make sure they aren’t damaged, exposed metal etc). Have a supply of sticky tape, possibly nails, hammers etc. They may want to paint  ‘their place’. (use water based paints…maybe your local hardware store/paint shop has out of date colours they want to give away.) That’s all you need to do, the rest is down to the kids.

Remember that you are there as a facilitator. Keep in the background, better still, out of sight completely.

Don’t try to get the kids to build, just leave the materials somewhere accessible, (garage or shed for example) and they will do the rest.  You may need to reassure them that it’s okay to use the materials once they have begun……they will ask you if  they need help. Whatever they build is okay…no preconceived ideas. If they want to demolish their building, that too is okay, unless they are doing it to someone else’s project without their say so. If that happens you may find yourself being asked to mediate, but try and allow the kids to resolve the issue between them-selves.

Your yard may look a little messy, but the play value your kids will get (and probably all the kids in the neighbourhood) will be enormous.

*see our page on the types of play—intriguing to watch for

Remember, remember the leaves of November

Object Play*
Rough and Tumble Play*
Mastery Play*
(and others)

Do you recall it? The big pile of leaves… the grownup with the rake turned around and Wow! In you jumped. The crunch (or on the Northwest coast, the squash) of leaves all round you. There you were, buried, totally surrounded by and part of all that gorgeous autumn debris!
Don’t clean up that yard yet-- It’s the time of year when kids are going to want to go out to play with leaves. If it’s raining, dress them for the rain and if there’s mud, even better. That’s all part of the fun. They’re going to get wet, they’re going to get messy and hopefully they’re going to get really dirty!

Prepare kids for play, so they don’t feel inhibited about what they’re wearing, about getting dirty. Set aside clothes for them to play in, clothes that they’ll be warm and comfortable in. That way they won’t worry and stress about what’s going to be said to them about getting clothes dirty or damaged.

It may be that the children start to play with leaves spontaneously, or it may be that they see you raking leaves up in the garden and want to join in. Either way, stand way back and let them go. If they choose to do it themselves, spontaneously, just be around in the background so if they ask you what to do with them, you can make suggestions, and if they don’t, just let them play with them.

Look for signs of total absorption. You may notice that they’ll break them into piles, throw them in the air, roll around in them, mush them between hands or under feet, and all with no apparent objective in mind. This is all part of kids coming to understand their environment.

*see our page on the types of play—intriguing to watch for

Playing With the elements - Water
Exploratory Play
Mastery Play

Kids need lots of water play, and in the days of our youth we'd be
sent after dinner to do the dishes—a serious job, our parents felt,
and much complained of by some of us. But remember the splashing, the
squidging of the sponge, the floating of the cups, and the sinking of
the bowls. Remember how the plates slid in sideways and the froth
spread and swirled… and then you'd squeeze the soap bottle and tiny
colored bubbles floated up to the ceiling or landed in your sister's

Okay, you've got a dishwasher.  But let your kid do the dishes, elbow
deep in warm soapy water, equipped with a sponge or cloth and some
real dishes that really need doing. This is a self-organizational,
elemental play opportunity, loosely supervised and directed by the
child, not the cook!

What to look for in the zone of self-organization, self directed play: attention focused on the sink and contents, exploration of soap
suds, floating and sinking of dishes, following with eyes and hands
the escape of bubbles, squeezing sponge/cloth to watch streams, drips
and dribbles, etc.

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