Snow: Play and Learn!

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We are very fortunate to have a large yard that the children can experience nature in, while still being in a controlled, very safe and supervised environment. And since it’s been snowing in New York now, it has given us and them an opportunity to play with snow. The snow-filled yard and our greenhouse have been our classrooms the past few days.

We encourage the children to approach and understand the winter wonderland in stages. The first snowfall is clean and pristine so the children can taste it. As it gets firmer, they make snowballs and snow cakes. Finally, they paint on the ice as it begins to freeze.

This first-hand, sensory-laden experience is priceless and the best teaching tool possible.

If you’d like to look, please do visit our snow post from last year, too.

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Why kids should garden

Last week our students harvested a crop of tomatoes that they had planted and tended to. We used the tomatoes – which were delicious! – in meals through the week, and everyone loved eating what they had grown.

 

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Do you garden with your kids? You should, because these are just three benefits:

How gardening can affect the BRAIN:

There is a myriad of scientific concepts you can discuss with your kids when planting and tending to a garden. One study showed that children who participated in gardening projects scored higher in science achievement than those who did not. The wonder of seeing a garden grow may spark your kids to ask questions like: Why do the plants need sun? How does the plant “drink” water? Why are worms good for the plants? Soon you will be talking about soil composition, photosynthesis and more! Add a little math while gardening by measuring how much plants are growing from week to week or counting the flowers on each plant. Supplement the experience of gardening with books about plants, trips to a botanical garden, or a photo journal of the plants that you are growing.

How gardening can affect the BODY:

When children participate in gardening, the fruits and vegetables that they are inspired to eat will no doubt have a positive effect on their body. But the act of gardening itself can also promote a healthy body. Kids LOVE to get their hands and feet in the dirt, which can run counter to the modern parenting style of compulsively keeping hands and surfaces cleaned and sanitized. However, consider the “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory that a lack of childhood exposure to germs actually increases a child’s susceptibility to diseases like asthma, allergies and autoimmune conditions by suppressing the development of the immune system. So getting dirty while gardening may actually strengthen a child’s immunity and overall health.

These days all kids could benefit from a little more physical activity and sunshine they’ll get while gardening. Activities like moving soil, carrying a heavy watering can, digging in the dirt and pushing a wheelbarrow can promote gross motor skills and overall strength for a more fit body. Plus, these activities, known as “heavy work,” have been shown to help kids stay calm and focused.

How gardening can affect the SOUL:

In this electronic age, kids need time for meaningful family connection. Time in the garden allows for team building and promotes communication skills. Planning a garden, planting the seeds and watching them grow give kids a sense of purpose and responsibility. Making sure that the plants get enough fertilizer, water and sun fosters mindfulness. The concepts learned while gardening, like composting food scraps for fertilizer or using gathered rainwater, can show kids a deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet.”

Resource

10 Inspired Gardening Projects for Kids

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A Friday tradition

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“I don’t know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors.”

– Enid Blyton

Weather permitting, we love our Friday picnics. The kids get finger foods from home. We head out into our custom-designed yard to eat lunch al fresco. It’s a wonderful way to end the week. Spending time outdoors, of course, has its benefits. What we love even more is just watching the kids soak in the sun, in the company of their friends, being comfortable in the natural world. It is one of our key endeavours at Elements Preschool, as an urban nature school, to help children reconnect with nature. A Friday picnic is one of the nicest ways to do that.

If you’re inspired to host a picnic for your kids, or with friends and family this weekend, here are some great resources:

12 Secrets for the Perfect Picnic

13 Quick and Easy Recipes for Picnics

8 Outdoor Games for a Picnic

Nature + Kids = Magic

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We call ourselves an urban nature preschool so obviously, at Elements, being out in our custom-designed backyard is a big part of a school day. And with our greenhouse, we managed to get the kids outdoors even in winter.

Why do we place such an emphasis on connecting children with nature?

This piece explains it well:

Just five minutes’ “green exercise” can produce rapid improvements in mental wellbeing and self-esteem, with the greatest benefits experienced by the young, according to a study this year at the University of Essex.

Free and unstructured play in the outdoors boosts problem-solving skills, focus and self-discipline. Socially, it improves cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include reduced aggression and increased happiness. “Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors,” concluded one authoritative study published by the American Medical Association in 2005.

“Nature is a tool,” says Stephen Moss, naturalist, broadcaster and author, “to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.” So climbing a tree, he says, is about “learning how to take responsibility for yourself, and how – crucially – to measure risk for yourself. Falling out of a tree is a very good lesson in risk and reward.”

How can you, as a parent, make sure your child does not lose touch with the outside world?

Here are some great resources to help you:

Children & Nature Network

National Wildlife Federation’s Connect Kids and Nature Program

The Nature Conservancy

Apps and sites to help kids connect with nature