The squirrel is a whiz at collecting and caching (storing and hiding away) treasures like nuts, seed, acorns, etc! Children are also innate collectors—and for good brain-building reasons. This week, invite kids to play like squirrels and hide a collection of nature treasures for friends to find. Here’s how:
What better way to fall in love with being active and learn about these amazing creatures than to play & move like squirrels? This week, we’ll give kids a whole range of ways to pretend to be squirrels as they move through a series of challenges and imaginative activities. To help kids get going, download and print this set of squirrel obstacle cards!
Gather a whole bunch of nature treasures:
Head outside to your backyard, neighborhood, favorite park, or woods. Have fun scampering about like squirrels as you gather acorns, rocks, wood chips, pine cones, flowers, leaves, sticks, etc. Invite your child to invent ways to transport their collection just as squirrels carry treasures in their mouths. What could your child use to carry their treasures to their hiding spots? Pockets? Your shirt (folded over)? A bucket? A bag? Or maybe you could turn a pillowcase into a bindle!
Cache your treasures:
Suggest to kids that you leave your collection of treasures in a spot where other people may find them. Have fun looking for silly or sneaky spots to hide them.
Prompt some thought:
Talk about what you are doing with kids as you cache treasures. Ask, "Who do you think will find these? What do you think they will think when they see them? How do you think they will feel when they see them? What do you think they will do with them?" These kinds of questions help kids form the building blocks of empathy.
Invite others to find the cache:
Leave a few clues to help friends, neighbors or passersby discover your cache. Leave a trail of nature treasures leading to the cache or make arrows out of sticks pointing the way to the hidden treasure. Kids can also arrange some of the materials in their cache into a design on the ground to invite friends to add to it or create their own design.
Extension—Try geo caching:
If kids are really into this activity, take a look around for geo caching activity in your area. You can look at apps like the Geochaching app at Geocaching.com to find maps and clues that lead you to geo cached treasures. Or, read this super helpful guide to geocaching with kids from our friends at Run Wild My Child. This can continue to be a sweet activity to share as a family as kids grow. Kids tend to find it really exciting that so many people are part of the treasure hunt, too! Tip: Remember, pack or find a small treasure to leave behind when you find a cache.
The desire to find, collect and cart treasure from one place to another is a universal pattern in kids' behavior experts call the transporting schema, and is the perfect activity to support brain and body development. Kids also use and develop multiple senses as they collect, arrange and enjoy the objects in their collection. Creating simple and joyful surprises for others is a super way to teach kids how to spread joy to others, hook kids on kindness, and develops both cognitive and compassionate empathy.
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Tinkergarten for Teachers
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We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is an Active Lifestyle?
At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than our kids’ health. From our perspective, children cannot enjoy good health without an active lifestyle that incorporates regular, physical activity as well as time spent in nature. And, we can only influence how they use their time for a short part of their lives. If we really want to ensure their wellness for the long haul, we need to get our kids hooked on being active outdoors.
Two bits of good news: little kids naturally want to be physically active, and they love to be outdoors. So, the challenge we face is how to make active time outdoors a priority in our lives and how to teach our kids to do the same. Understandably, this is increasingly challenging in a culture that imposes so many schedules and structures around kids time. And it is all the more important when kids spend the majority of their waking hours indoors, staring at a screen, or living in communities in which the green spaces are fewer and more restricted than ever before.
Why does it matter?
Research in the past 25 years has confirmed a link between physical activity that takes place outdoors and positive health outcomes. Also, it has drawn an association between an indoor, sedentary lifestyle and negative health consequences. For young children, time to play, ramble and explore outdoors leads to the most extensive and lasting benefits—more than adult-led, structured outdoor activities like organized sports.
Perhaps the two most common issues in children’s health to which a lack of outdoor, physical activity contribute are childhood obesity and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]). Beyond the millions of overweight children, obesity rates have doubled for children (ages 6-11) and tripled for adolescents (ages 12-19) in just two decades. The number of children diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD continues to rise, and ADHD results in significant impairment to children socially and academically.
Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. For example, 70% of teens who are obese grow up to be obese adults. On the flip side, if physical activities and time spent outdoors are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.
What are schema and why should you care?
There are patterns of repeatable behavior known as "schema" that you can notice in your child's play during early childhood (~18months-age 5 or 6). No matter where you are in the world, these same schema are exhibited by kids. Experts believe that when kids repeat these patterns in different situations, kids develop physically and cognitively. In turn, they are better able to understand, navigate and interact with their worlds, resulting in transformative learning. Kids naturally become absorbed in repeating these patterns, and practice with schema is highly engaging for them.
“Children’s schemas can be viewed as part of their motivation for learning, their insatiable drive to move, represent, discuss, question and find out.”—Professor Cathy Nutbrown, UK
How are schema useful to parents and teachers?
First, it just feels great to better understand your little ones. Once you notice these patterns, your child's seemingly random and (occasionally frustratingly) repetitive actions suddenly appear elegant and purposeful. Best of all, once you realize that they are really exploring a certain schema or two, you can pick activities for them that give them the opportunity to practice them, increasing their engagement and extending their learning.
Does every kid get absorbed in schema?
These are universal patterns, but different kids will engage in schema in different ways. For example, some kids dabble in schema, engaging in several at any given time. Others move from one schema to another over time. Others still stay working on a single schema for years.
How should you support your child as they exhibit schema?
Exploration with various schema is built into Tinkergarten activities. It's also interesting to notice how some of the best kids' toys enable children to practice with schema.
To get started, check out the most common schema and see if you recognize these patterns in your child's behavior. If you do, check out our activities that help to extend his or her learning by supporting that schema. For fun, mention these to your friends as you watch their children at play. They'll be in awe of your observation skills, any maybe even refer to you as the toddler-whisperer?!
The scoop on common schema:
You may have noticed that your child seems to spend lots of time picking up objects, putting them into a container, perhaps only to transfer them to another container or dump out the container and start again. Your child may also simply love to haul around hefty things (e.g. logs, books, blocks). Kids may also love to fill up wagons, carts, strollers, etc. so they can "transport" objects or people around.
So many children become engrossed in spinning around and around to the point of dizziness…who hasn’t?! Kids who are focused on rotation/circulation spin themselves or become fixated on watching things that rotate, like a wheel, or the clothes dryer. That is the magic behind rolling down a hill.
Many kids go through a phase or just always seem to like moving in straight lines. They probably like to walk along the cracks in the sidewalk, balance on the curb, walk along a log, climb up and down ladders or whiz down slides. Some can't get enough of those swings. They also love to throw, drop, roll and toss all kinds of things.
Kids like to order, arrange and position objects or themselves. They may arrange blocks, cars, rocks or other objects in lines, rows, piles or patterns. Drawing, painting and sculpture work likely includes lines and patterns as well. Lining up may be a favorite activity, and where friends and family stand, sit or walk may be of particular interest.
Kids like to cover, wrap or enclose things and themselves. For example, your child may hide themselves under the bed covers, love to wrap up in a towel after the bath, or use a single crayon to cover a whole piece of paper during art time. You may also notice a time when your kids continue to find places to tuck objects or themselves out of sight (aggrrr, not the keys again!). They may love to sit in tunnels, climb into empty boxes, hide up in trees, build forts, or squirrel away in a little area under the stairs. Or, they may love to tuck treasures away into boxes, bags, pockets or hidden nooks around the yard.
A child might spend a great deal of time connecting things to one another. You may notice that they love to join the train tracks together, link LEGOs in long chains, build “fences” out of blocks, each block touching its neighbor. They also love to use tape, glue, string, and other things that connect objects.
Kids like to transform the shape, feel and look of things and themselves. You'll notice this when they are dressing up in costumes or putting on make up. These are your potion-makers and demolition crew, who may add milk to their mashed potatoes, make potions in the backyard, knock down buildings and towers, and mix all of the play-doh colors together...in short, they can be a big sister’s nightmare!
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!