Gardening with Preschoolers

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Garden Yoga pose “Seeds”—Photo courtesy Leanne Manning

This summer several sites across the U.S. are piloting a gardening curriculum with preschoolers.  This curriculum, developed by Nebraska Extension and Texas A & M Extension, teaches children about the parts of the plant.  While it sounds simple, they are learning much more than the parts of the plant as they go through  lessons like how to plants seeds, how stems take up nutrients to help plants grow,  eating healthy foods grown in the garden, and about being patient.  It is hard work to wait for your turn to plant your seeds or to wait for your seeds to sprout.  Here are some tips shared by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to help make gardening with young children go a little more smoothly.

  1. Be prepared. Find out what grows best in your area.  Prep the garden area before the children join you.  Have many tools available for lots of little hands.
  2. Chill out. Children will plant 25 seeds in one small hole.  They will plant the leaves instead of the roots in the soil.  Other children will undo what one child has just completed.  Things will happen and it is best to just relax and go with the flow.  Everyone will enjoy it much more if you do.
  3. Have a “can-do” garden. Find all the ways the children can be involved in the garden.  Yes, you may plant those seeds. Yes, you may dig in the dirt. Yes, you can use the hand tools, and yes, you can water the plants.  When attention wanders, allow the children to move to other tasks.  We have incorporated garden yoga into the gardening time and the children love the movement.
  4. Eat what you grow. Remember children are great imitators and if they see you eating and enjoying vegetables from the garden, they too will develop a liking for them.
  5. Have fun! Pretend play is important in all children’s development so see what ideas they come up with for garden fun.  Placing an old chalkboard along the garden path can be fun for impromptu chalk art. Bring out a small pool to have water fun in the garden. Old pots and pans can be hung on the fence and used as “musical” instruments.  The list of ideas is as varied as you make it.  That reminds me, we need to try some singing in the garden.  I fondly remember picking strawberries with my mother in the garden and learning many childhood songs.

 

Source: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/7-tips-vegetable-gardening

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Playground Safety

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Photo source: Jaci Foged

Time to put the winter coats, sleds and ice skates away for next winter. The weather is starting to warm up, which means we get to spend MORE time outside with our children. Zoos, parks and playgrounds — here we come!

I was born in the ’80s; we had big hair, loud clothes and playground equipment that has since been removed for safety reasons. Did a fond memory just pop into your head? Anyone remember a 12–15 foot tall metal slide with a bump in the center? Not only did the bump send you flying, but the sun warmed up the surface of the slide so it was sometimes too hot to touch! What about a merry-go-round?

These were popular back in my day; you could get going so fast the motion could throw you right off ! And what about being the kid who spun the merry-go-round? How many of you ended up being dragged when you lost your footing? Yes, there is a reason playgrounds look differently today than they did over 20 years ago.

Safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children, ages 14 and younger, for play-ground-related traumatic brain injuries each year. The National Safety Council (NSC) states that nearly 80 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls.

The top equipment associated with injuries includes: climbers, swings, slides and overhead ladders. Some unnecessary risks can mitigate using the SAFE guidelines later discussed in this article. But, there is a healthy degree of risk necessary for learning and development.

Worth the Risk?

The opportunity for “risky play” is not without benefit. In the early years, children should have numerous and varied opportunities to assess risk and manage situations. Very young children assess and take risks daily, which ultimately leads to new learning.

Think about a child learning to walk. At first they need substantial support, from us and the furniture around them. But gradually, they make small changes to their posture and the speed at which they move. Sure, they fall down a lot before they master it fully, but with practice comes skill.

The same goes for risky play on playground equipment, or just playing outside in general. Children are not only learning how to move their bodies to be successful, which develops skills and coordination, they are also learning about success and failure.

Risky play also ignites motivation. We want our children to be motivated — to strive for success, make adjustments and try repeatedly. Giving it their all, and finding success or failure, will also teach them their limits. Research shows us children who do not engage in risky play may have poor balance, appear to be clumsy and even feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.

The Adults Role

Adults do play a part. Our children need us to be there to cheer them on, give them a thumbs up and offer support as needed. We need to take them to parks and playgrounds that offer play movements which are often associated with risk. These include swinging, hanging, sliding and rolling. We also need to educate ourselves on which equipment is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age and personal development.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) provides us with the acronym S.A.F.E. as a way to remember the four contributing factors to properly maintain a safe play-ground atmosphere.

S – Provide proper SUPERVISION of children on playgrounds.

A – Design AGE- APPROPRIATE playgrounds.

F – Provide proper FALL SURFACING under and around playgrounds .

E – Properly maintain playground EQUIPMENT.

National Playground Safety Week was celebrated, April 23–27. Parents, childcare providers, schools and communities planned to take time to focus on their outdoor environments. For childcare providers, you might take some time to see if there is a certified playground inspector in your area. You can find out if there is one near you at http://www.playgroundsafety.org/certified. You can also find a public playground safety checklist on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at http://bit.ly/playgroundsafetylist.

 Lincoln Journal Star reports Lincoln has 125 parks and 128 miles of trails. Go play!

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Katie KRause, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Nature’s Gifts

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Have you ever given thought to all the benefits to children of letting them explore the natural world?  When they are outdoors and climbing trees, skipping stones, scaling rocks, or rolling down the hill they are getting much needed physical activity which can help curb childhood obesity.

The visual beauty of nature also has a calming effect on children.  They can relax, breathe deeply, and reflect on their surroundings.  Think about when you were young and you laid down in the grass and looked for shapes among the clouds in the sky and how relaxing that experience was.  Children can also use their senses to explore nature.  Ask them, “What do you hear as you stand here under the trees?  What do you smell or what does the branch of the evergreen tree smell like?”  Try taking paint chips to the outdoors and give them to children to go and find something in nature that matches the color of the paint chip.  Use the sense of touch to feel the texture on a plant’s leaves, the bark on the tree, the surface of a rock, or the roughness of a pine cone.

By having children care for a plant or garden they are learning to be responsible.  If they don’t water a plant it might suffer or die.  The same goes for caring for a pet.  This helps children develop empathy as they make the connection between their timely and responsive care giving to their pet’s or plant’s well-being.

Give children tools to further their nature exploration.  Some ideas include:  collection boxes, small hand tools like shovels or trowels, packets of seeds to plant, a bucket or tub for water play, magnifying glasses, binoculars, pencils, crayons and paper.  Having nature-related storybooks will also encourage children to explore outdoors.

Adults can help children explore nature by planning developmentally appropriate activities and by taking children on trips to parks or other nature areas.  Adults can take infants outside and talk to them about what they are seeing or hearing, for example, “Do you hear that cow mooing?  Cows use mooing to talk to each other.”  When children get older, ask them higher level questions about cows such as, “Where do cows live?  What types of food do cows eat?” It is also important to let children explore on their own.  When given the time to freely experience nature, they will build their own relationship and sense of wonder with nature.

Source: Children and Nature: Are We Supporting the Connection? extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/children-and-nature-are-we-supporting-the-connection.

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Keeping Children Active

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According to the State of Obesity, Nebraska ranks 5th in the nation for childhood overweight and obesity in children ages 2-4.  Yikes!  Nebraska also has the 13th highest adult obesity rate in the nation.

I recently read the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development?  By Rae Pica.  The book is broken down into 3 parts with a total of 29 easy to read essays which reference real-life stories shared by teachers and parents.  At the end of each essay, Rae provides the reader with ideas for what teachers can do as well as where teachers (and other adults) can go to for more information on the topic.

Part two of the book is all about understanding the mind/body connection.  Rae discusses what the research says about active learning, how important physical fitness is to children’s health and development and why we should push our schools to review the research on recess and active play breaks for children.

Benefits of physical activity:

  • reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • helps control weight
  • increases the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells and germ fighting antibodies
  • helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.

Based on research, it is clear that we need to keep our children and youth (and the adults too) more active.  Fit Activity For Kids, What’s Your Name? is a developmentally appropriate active activity for adults to play with the children.  To play, the player picks out the letters of their name, and then do the physical activity that goes with each letter.  You might be wondering what would your child be learning during this activity.  Literacy (Letter recognition), turn taking (social emotional), physical activity (healthy bodies, balance, core strength), and more!

Are you looking for new, creative ways to keep your children active and happy?   Visit The Learning Child on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/unlextensiontlc/.

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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What’s the Buzz on Insect Repellant and Kids?

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Spring is in the air and we will soon see families and children enjoying time outdoors, in backyards, and in the parks.  One thing that can spoil this picture are the annoying biting insects and mosquitoes.  I wanted to know what the experts say about the safety of insect repellents on small children, and I was surprised to find out that deet is not as bad as I had thought.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that insect repellents containing deet are safe for children as young as 2 months. Bug repellents with deet come in varying strengths – some contain up to 30-percent deet. A higher concentration of deet does not mean a product is stronger, only that it lasts longer.

Another ingredient similar to deet in some repellants is Picaridin, which has been used in European countries for 10 years and is becoming more popular in products available in the U.S.  There are also natural repellants made with oils such as lemongrass and citronella.  Along with repellants, parents and caregivers can prevent insect bites by dressing children in long sleeve clothes and socks and shoes.  It is suggested that parents avoid products that combine sunscreen and insect repellant.  While it is good to reapply sunscreen often, it is not recommended to reapply the insect repellants.

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Parent’s Magazine highlights many of the products you can buy in their Ultimate Guide to Bug Repellant for Kids, with specific application information for each product. Check out what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says about Insect Repellant Use and Safety in Children. It is always a good idea to ask your trusted pediatrician what they would recommend for your child. The Center For Disease Control also has recommendations for Insect Repellant Use and Safety.

There are so many positive reasons to get children outdoors to play and explore.  Be informed on how you can prevent insect bites from scratching your plans.

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LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Get Back to Nature!

After 70 degree temps earlier this month, I was snowed in at home due to ice and white out conditions.  That’s nature in Nebraska.  We could think of all kinds of reasons to be negative about the weather, but I say, “Let it Snow!”  I remember as a child the many fond memories of playing in the snow with my family, and it was something to look forward to each winter season.  Sledding, making snowmen and snow forts and exploring the different types of snow (such as the kind that easily packs together for building versus the light and dryer type of snow) allows children to connect with nature and the outdoors, while at the same time building their sense of creativity, problem solving, motor skills, and social emotional development.

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Last month I delivered a program to childcare center directors where we focused on spaces to learn and grow and the importance of designing outdoor spaces for children in our care to experience nature.  No matter what season it is, research indicates that children who have opportunities to experience their natural environments have the ability sustain concentration, delay gratification, and cope with stressors in their lives.  Research done in the Netherlands demonstrated the distance one lives from the nearest green space and the prevalence of many major illnesses including Anxiety disorder and depression in children under age 12. According to Louise Chawla, Professor of Planning and Urban Design from the University of Colorado, “Adults in many studies report that memories of a special place in nature experience in their childhood gives them a pool of calm on which they can draw in difficult times.”

When designing spaces for children, I advise childcare providers to include a balance of natural spaces and play equipment. Include areas with small trees, and perhaps a water feature and patches of soil to explore as well as to garden in. Play equipment that is safe for children can be interspersed within the outdoor space and the natural additions of plants and pathways can create natural barriers to define the purpose of these areas.  Check out Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature for some great before and after outdoor spaces designs in childcare settings as well as a detailed explanation to the many benefits of natural environments.

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Bringing the outdoors in to the classroom or center is also essential in early childhood curriculum. Consider the many classroom centers and the possible items from nature that could inspire and challenge children’s exploration.  Classrooms can add sticks and rocks or tree cookies to the building area, or introduce seeds and leaves to the science center.  Could these items be used in the art area? If you have small group experiences, you might explore the seeds inside of a pomegranate or pumpkin.   NAEYC shows how early childhood settings can introduce nature in the classrooms and allow children to take the lead in exploring these materials by Connecting Young Children With Nature .

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Children spend a good majority of their time in childcare, and therefore it is essential that we include natural outdoor learning environments and experiences to enhance their overall growth in development in all domains.

What are you doing in your childcare home or center to Get Back to Nature?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Brain Dance: Encouraging Children’s Natural Explorations through Movement

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Research tells us that from birth to age six there is important learning happening. During this early learning period, children show us many ways that they naturally and competently explore their world and approach learning. One important way children explore and learn about their world is through physical movement.

Movement is a way for children to express themselves, particularly if they have not yet fully developed verbal language. As educators, we need to not only support movement as a learning tool, but embrace it. This may mean letting go of some old ideas, such as the idea that sitting still all the time is a good way to learn.

As Janet Eilber, Advisor for Arts Education in the News, states, “Early learning is all experiential … We learn to move through and communicate with the world by using the basic elements of creativity: curiosity, observation, experimentation, translation, communication. No wonder ‘sitting still and being quiet’ is so difficult and discouraging for many young learners. We are being asked to abandon approaches to learning with which we have had great success.”

Children enjoy activities that involve the senses and movement; they are natural explorations and they are fun! As a result, children are more attentive and engaged, which can heighten the learning experience at hand. In addition, physical activity simply makes children feel good. Feeling good helps children with learning, self-confidence, and an overall positive outlook. Support children’s complex developmental skills by rethinking your day’s activities to include more plans for physical movement and dance, such as the following 5 tips:

  1. Use dance and movement for transition times – Dance like a ballerina to the bathroom, dance like slithering snakes to the coat cubby, etc.
  2. Use movements to tell a story –When telling stories, use physical actions and encourage the children to act out the story with you.
  3. Provide meaningful chores for children that include dance-like movements -sweep the floor, take out the garbage, weed the gardens, and of course, clean up the toys.
  4. Sound out the dance – Move with things that make sound, such as Velcro bands of bells attached to wrists and ankles (uses multi-sensory actions) or shaker-type instruments. Try taping flat, metal lids (recycled from juice cans, etc.) to the bottom of shoes for fun tap dance sounds.
  5. Dance and draw – Twirl streamers to make shapes and letters. Show drawings and pictures of shapes for children to look at first and then make with their bodies.

Source: Penn State University Better Kid Care

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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