Tuning in to the sounds around us is a great way to help us slow down, feel present and connect with our surroundings and with each other. When we really focus on listening (and not just hearing), it's amazing how much more there is to take in and pay attention to. In honor of National Day of Unplugging on March 4th, this activity encourages families to take a walk with the goal of not just to hearing, but really listening to the sounds all around us.
Suggest to kids that you go on a walk, but that it’s a special kind of walk that is all about the sounds we hear around us--a listening walk.
Step 2: Plan your walk.
Taking a walk means very different things for different kids based on age, personality and environment, so use your judgement about how much time your walk will take. In terms of setting, if a hike in the woods is something that is accessible and appealing to your family, go for it. If a walk around your urban neighborhood is what makes the most sense, great. There is no right or ideal place for a listening walk. Every place provides opportunities to listen.
Step 3: Practice listening.
Before really beginning the walk, focus first on what it means to listen. Go outside and either lay down or sit down for a minute (or more!) with the goal of quieting bodies, breathing, and starting to turn up the awareness of the orchestra of sounds going on around you. Share with each other the sounds you each heard around you. Did you hear any sounds coming from you, too?
Step 4: Take a listening walk.
When you actually start walking, ask kids to be aware of additional sounds they hear, or sounds that fall away. What sounds are coming from up high? What sounds do you hear far away in the distance, close by or below your feet? Every so often, you can do a ‘stop and sense’ where you stop walking and see what that does for your listening.During one of the stops, try closing your eyes to experience what that does for your ability to listen. Sight is the dominant sense for humans (especially in the age of screens) and it can be enlightening to experience sound without it.
Step 5: Reflect and share.
After your walk, take a few minutes to talk about all of the different sounds you heard and what might have been surprising, exciting, a little scary, or if there were any sounds you couldn’t identify.
Why is this activity great for kids?
This is a great activity for helping us to slow down and really be present with ourselves and each other. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to practice focusing, both in general and on a particular sense, further developing that sensory awareness.
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By communication, we mean the ability to listen, understand, speak, read and write and more. In order to communicate effectively, kids must learn to understand what they want to get across, then decide on how to convey their messages, working to coordinate the mind and body to do so. They also need to learn to anticipate how the message will be received by another person(s). This is rather elegant and requires a symphony of physical, cognitive and social capabilities. The more children can practice, the better!
Why does it matter?
On a very practical level, kids need to be able to express questions and ideas in order to learn. Kids who communicate effectively can test ideas, seek help and let their formal and informal teachers in the world know what they understand and where they need support. Kids will also need strong and nuanced communication skills in order to work well in peer groups and manage relationships with authority figures, critical parts of life in classrooms and beyond. Later in life, they will need these skills to form close relationships, advocate for themselves within communities and be effective in the workplace.
What does it mean to develop Curiosity?
Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
Focus & Self Control
What is Focus and Self Control?
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 a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
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 Gross Motor skills?
Gross motor skills involve movement and use of the large muscles of the body (e.g. those in our arms, legs and trunk/torso) that enable such functions as walking, running, sitting upright, climbing, and throwing.
In the first 16 months of the average baby’s life, she rapidly acquires significant gross motor skills: rolling over, sitting up, standing, crawling and walking. Toddlers and young children go on to build gross motor skills such as throwing and catching a ball, balancing on a log, jumping, and running in a game of tag.
Gross motor skills develop through practice and repetition, which is why a baby takes weeks to perfect each new milestone motor skill, and a child will attempt that same climbing stunt again and again or take a whole season to learn how to throw or catch a ball successfully.
Each child develops at his or her own pace and in his or her own way. Typical gross motor skills development also requires that the brain, spine, nerves and muscles need to be intact and undamaged. If damage has occurred through birth trauma, accident or illness, then progress of motor skills, as that of other skills, may be not resemble the notes below.
Why does it matter?
Gross motor skills are essential for every day, important body movements including walking, keeping balance, reaching, lifting and even sitting. These skills are essential for getting around, accessing the things we need and participating in games, sports and other activities that promote wellness, social development and learning. Gross motor skills are also necessary for other physical functions. For example, a child’s ability to sit and hold his upper body strong and steady will likely impact his ability to use his hands to write, draw and cut as well as his ability to follow instructions and participate actively in a classroom setting.
Typical Gross Motor Development by age:
Babies learn to walk well, skip, jump, and run. They learn to climb on stairs, logs, small ladders and age appropriate playground equipment (or, if like ours, on equipment designed for kids much older!). They also enjoy moving and grooving to music.
Toddlers run, jump and climb with improved coordination. Toddlers start to enjoy playing games that coordinate more than one gross motor skill like those that involve running, kicking and/or climbing. Toddlers also enjoy experimenting with movement in certain directions such as: forwards and backwards; in straight lines; rotating until dizzy, etc.
Large muscle movement grows more coordinated. Children can run faster and switch both terrain and direction with much more ease, making chasing games and races both fun and helpful. Many children this age begin to use pedal toys and attempt to hop with both feet and then on one foot while keeping their balance. They can toss objects in the direction of a target and play catch at short distances.
Large muscle movement grows even stronger and more coordinated. Most children master the hopping with one or both feet. They can run, jump forward and often skip. They can throw objects and often hit a target. Games that involve kicking and throwing while running are now possible and fun. Toddlers this age love to balance on the edges of objects and walk in straight lines. Movement that is rhythmic is both highly engaging and possible.
Large muscle movement only continues to grow stronger and coordinated as children’s energy level soars at this age. Most kids can hop, skip, and even jump rope. They easily throw balls at targets and are improving their ability to catch balls that are tossed to them. Kids this age start to take more risks with their climbing, making it an great age to begin climbing trees, challenging logs and rocks.
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?
Persistence & Grit
What are Persistence & Grit?
A persistent person can continue on a given course of action in spite of challenges or barriers that arise. In other words, persistence is the ability to stick with something and keep trying. It's partner, grit, is the strength of character, and sometimes courage, to allow one to persist. Those who possess grit don't mind rolling up their sleeves, focusing on the task at hand, and sticking with it to completion despite the challenges that come their way.
Why does it matter?
Talent is helpful, but it's hard work, persistence and grit that unlock talent and turn capable people into success stories. As Thomas Edison so famously said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Practice with being persistent, including the chance to struggle and learn how to overcome struggle, will help kids later have ability to wade through and make sense of confusing new information, navigate difficult situations, and solve tough problems.
Further, studies like those discussed in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock tell us that kids will actually perform better when we praise their hard work instead of just telling them how smart or great they are. As parents, we also tend to offer kids activities which are enjoyable and attainable and, as such, too easy. Bear in mind that if we spare them frustration, we actually deny them the chance to work hard and develop persistence and grit.