Quality Family Time - Step Outside Without the Screens

Words of Wisdom From an Occupational Therapist in the making

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Hey everyone! I know you are used to hearing from Ann in the blog posts but today the blog is having a guest post from me, Alayna Ricketts! I am an occupational therapy student from Ohio, and I have had the absolute pleasure of continuing my learning with Ann in beautiful Maryland for a clinical fieldwork placement. A million ideas came to mind about I wanted to share with you all… there are so many important topics and concepts that I gained first-hand experience in during my time with Ann. When searching for some blog post inspiration, I thought of a family I saw walk past my porch one evening...

They were outside in the neighborhood with tall trees and native flowers all around, and they were choosing to look at screens.

There was a dad pushing a double stroller with two little girls in it and a boy just older than the girls walking alongside. The girls were giggling and the boy seemed to be explaining something very important to his dad. Then I noticed it… the SCREENS. The two girls were laughing at whatever they were watching on the screens, and the little boy was trying to convince his dad to let him have a turn to watch something. I was shocked! They were outside in the neighborhood with tall trees and native flowers all around, and they were choosing to look at screens.

Now, before you get defensive, I am not here to bash screen time. Electronic devices open a wide world of opportunities. There is educational programming, socialization with far away relatives and friends, access to books and music, game playing with friends, and many more things. Screen time can give parents a much needed break too. As long as your child is engaging in active play at other times during the day, not obsessed with and controlled by screen time, and not using screens near bedtime, screen time can have its place.

My reminder for the day:

Don’t forget to put away screens when you have the opportunity to develop senses, build relationships, and gain skills, especially outside!

There are so many opportunities to hone your child’s (and your) senses while you are outside. The sights, smells, sounds, movements, touch sensations, and even tastes are SO varied.

  • SIGHT -You can play games that challenge you eyes to track flying butterflies or fireflies, search for objects of a specific color, focus on trees near and far, or spot differences between plants.

  • SMELL -There are scents to identify like mulch, flowers, herbs, or rain.

  • HEARING -You can identify large and small vehicles by sound, differentiate between birds, or talk about sounds in your area that are different from sounds in other areas.

  • MOVEMENT -Walking uphill/downhill, gravel, grass, uneven surfaces, and narrow/wide paths offer different movement challenges. You can even see who can run to the next mailbox fastest or who can jump off the tree stump in the coolest way.

  • TOUCH -Flowers, trees, grasses, pavements, and hands all have different feelings when you touch them. Some plants are even edible!

    A walk is a SENSATIONAL experience… so let it be one!

Having safe and fun experiences builds connections. Laughing, playing games, and doing activities together builds bonds and opens communication in relationships.

If I haven’t sold you yet, let’s talk about building relationships. Yes, it’s possible to have pro-social experiences while using screens, BUT developing trusting, positive relationships with friends, parents, and siblings happens best when we aren’t looking at a screen. Having safe and fun experiences builds connections. Laughing, playing games, and doing activities together builds bonds and opens communication in relationships. Showing you care by spending time with your child and not on your screens also contributes to creating a secure attachment and a positive relationship with your child.

As a shameless plug for the outdoors, I will also say that unstructured, free play outdoors provides children with the opportunity to work on self-regulation and problem solving in a way screens cannot.

They may discover sensations or activities that calm them or make them more alert. Children will begin to understand their bodies, their limits, and how to challenge themselves. Outdoor play can be VERY motivating and creative.

Imaginations can run wild… bushes turn into fairy gardens… trees turn into overgrown broccoli… the ground turns into lava… who even knows. There are boundless opportunities with many twists, turns, and endings.

Children problem solve to create toys from found items, how to get everyone from the bush to the house without touching the ground (because it’s lava, duh!), or how to get so-and-so from down the street to stop hogging all the sidewalk chalk. Outdoor play has so much to offer!

Remember, this is all about moderation for you and your child. You don’t have to throw away screens all together… you just have to find and enjoy the moments without them! Make opportunities to take a walk, to play kickball or play with dolls, to dig in the garden, or to catch fireflies with your child. These experiences are jammed packed full of sensory honing moments, skill development, and relationship building.

So, give those screens a rest and take a walk outside tonight :)

—Alayna

Alayna hard at work as she works as she helps provide an environment for meaningful play outdoors.

Hold On Tight to The Family Dinner

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Running here. Running there. There’s just no time. You grab take out. You eat smoothies on the run. You can’t remember the last time you sat down together as a family

Something special happens when we gather around the table as a family.

It’s time to take charge, reset your priorities and bring back the family dinner. Or, maybe your family never had that as a priority. On today’s blog, I am encouraging you to make a commitment to eating together as often as possible.

Are you kidding? - That’s what I hear some of you saying. Between soccer practice, homework, dance lessons, PTA meetings, scouts and work, you have given up on getting everyone at the table at the same time. Well, listen up! There is something special that happens when we gather around the table as a family. Connection. Conversation and a commitment to healthy eating.

You can get a lot of information from sitting face to face with someone. For instance, your teen had a hard day at school. Someone said something that cut them to the core. Or maybe they got a bad grade on their chemistry test. They are feeling pretty down. Chances are when they get home they are going to either head to their room or turn on the TV as they reply, “Fine,” to you when you ask how their day was.

But sitting across from them at the table, you can see their face, read their expression and get a glimpse into how they are really doing. Even if they don’t open up, they know you are there for them. By the way, don’t use dinnertime as a place for hard conversations. Keep the tough conversations for another more private time. Keep dinnertime as a safe place where everyone feels they belong. Making the effort to have a consistent family dinner gives at least one area of consistency to the turbulent teen experience.

Routines, such as family meals, act as an anchor in today’s stressful world.

If you have toddlers, dinner is not only a time to connect, it is a good time to establish boundaries, practice social skills and continue the learning process. Routines, such as family meals, are like an anchor in today’s stressful world.

Aside from being a place for connection, mealtime it is a place for good conversation. Conversations are hard to come by these days. I am talking about face to face conversations. Learning the art of conversation is a life skill that is often overlooked in today’s world of texts and social media. Learning to wait your turn, using respectful words, showing interest in what others have to say, are all important skills that can be reinforced at the family table.

Learning and humor can also be a fun part of mealtime. As our kids were growing up, my husband would always come to the table with a fun fact he had heard on the radio or read in the newspaper. Other days he would bring a trivia question. The kids were always excited when he announced it was going to be a “money question” that night. While the prize didn’t often go higher than a quarter - or on a high stakes night, a dollar - the kids were always eager to make an attempt at the test of knowledge. And humor? What better place for dad jokes to come out than dinnertime??

Giving kids the opportunity to share what they learned that day, not only gives them a boost of self-confidence, it gives you a chance to check up on what they are learning and what is happening at school.

Whether we like to admit it or not, it is much easier to eat healthier food when we are eating at home. While it does take more planning, homemade food is a much better option than the drive thru or pizza delivery. Not only does it taste better, when we are feeding ourselves and our children well, it is better for our overall health and thinking ability. Try some new things. Be a little adventurous. With inventions like the crockpot and the instant pot, it doesn’t even have to take up much of our time.

A conversation about what constitutes a healthy meal is for another time but keep these things in mind: Colorful meals are more appealing and generally more healthy. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with protein and grains. Try to steer away from sugary drinks like soda or sports drinks. If you want to add to the connection factor, get your kids involved in helping you prepare the meal. Cooking together can be fun - and yet another life skill to pass along.

So in a world where busyness is the norm, I encourage you to make family dinner a priority. I know it can’t happen every night, but try to do it as often as you can. You and your kids will reap some long term benefits from the time spent connecting over a meal.

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Raising Outdoor Kids

Start them when they are young…

*Disclosure: This post contains product links which may result in compensation. This allows me to keep bringing you great content. I only link to products I fully believe in.

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It has been awhile! I have been busy giving my blog a new look and planning the upcoming season of my Timbernook program. But I am back some new content, starting with a very special post about special outdoor people in my life! 

Raising kids who enjoy being outside can be challenging. Making the time, finding the gear and managing the mess are just a few of things that come to mind!

You may be saying yourself, “I can never get my kids to play outside.”

I may have just the encouragement you need.

Today I am sharing an interview with a young mom in my life who does an amazing job of getting her young boys outside on a regular basis. Megan, who happens to be my daughter-in-law and mom to my adorable grandsons, has made it a priority to get her boys outside from the time they were very young. She has a unique perspective as a former nanny and preschool teacher and now, as a baby sleep consultant for Sleepwise Consulting.

WARNING: Cuteness Alert!

Physical activity really enhances the brain’s ability to learn and retain information.

Before you had your own kids, you worked in a preschool - What things did you learn there that helped you shape your attitude about parenting, play and the outdoors?

I was a preschool teacher for 3 years and I do think it shaped a lot of how I parent my own boys. I attended a lot of trainings about open ended play and how important it is for young children to have freedom and creative outlets. Outdoor recess time, was another huge part of our day - fresh air is good for everyone. Some of my trainings also were about how physical activity really enhances the brain's ability to learn and retain information. Watching and learning from my 40 students a year really taught me about different learning styles and how little things such as 5 minutes outside can make a huge difference.

What kind of clothes/outerwear do you have that you find are essential for playing outside? 


Some outdoor wear I have found to be really helpful are Keen sandals for the summer - they can be wet or dry and are fairly closed in with tough rubber toe boxes to protect little feet. Another must for summer is a baseball or bucket hat to protect little faces and eyes. We also love rubber boots we have both neoprene insulated ones for cold and just regular rubber rain boots for summer. And last but not least our favorite thing Oakiwear rainsuits! We LOVE them and can’t say enough good things about them. The suits just easily zip over any outfit, so your little one is ready for mud, water or snow and you don’t have to completely change them when you’re done outside.

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Frequently I hear concerns about outdoor play, including fear of germs, worry about child abduction, and worry about getting hurt - Do any of those things go through your mind? What could you say to moms who might have those concerns?

I should say right away that I’m not a germaphobe. I myself grew up spending countless hours outside playing so I think that’s just what I’m used too. I honestly believe, that Target carts are way more gross than dirt outside. I’ve never thought too much about child abduction. I try to have a healthy protectiveness, but not be a helicopter mom. I know kidnapping can happen anywhere... however, we live in a fairly safe neighborhood and I don’t let my kiddos wander outside alone yet.  

As far as my concern about them getting hurt… I think honestly, my kids have gotten more injuries from playing inside than outside. I feel like grass is soft and forgiving, and if they play on a hard surface they are usually riding a bike or scooting around and they wear a helmet. I’m really a firm believer that children should have the freedom to explore - I would encourage all parents to let their little ones play outside and feel a sense of freedom- I really think children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

Outside play allows children to explore and use their imagination more freely which in turn helps with independent playtime inside.

How does playing outside have a positive impact on your day? Conversely, do you notice a difference when you don’t get outside?

Playing outside definitely puts more of a positive spin on our day. It’s a place where my children can run and be free. Our yard has a lot less boundaries then inside our house and I think the extra space helps everyone feel happier. I’m also a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, and I know that in order for most children to sleep well they need to burn off that excess energy. Sleep is something we value in our house, so if allowing time for outdoor play helps that then it’s a plus in my mind. Outside play allows children to explore and use their imagination more freely which in turn helps with independent playtime inside. On days we don’t get outside my boys are definitely more antsy and have more trouble focusing on a task or toy.

Free to Run!

Free to Run!

Give your child a chance to be bored and dream up an idea - that is so beneficial for imaginative play and building confidence.

What advice do you have for other moms who want to get their kids outside more often?

My best advice would be just go for it. Make outside a part of your day no matter what. Start small with just 10 or 15 minutes and build from there. Dressing appropriately for the weather really helps too. Simple things such as a bucket and shovel do wonders for a child’s imagination. Give your child a chance to be bored and dream up an idea - this is so beneficial for imaginative play and building confidence. In today’s world, our kids are so use to things being instant that I really like to fight that and give my boys creative freedom. My last tidbit of advice would be don’t be afraid to get a little messy. I hope your family will find a love for the outdoors as much as mine does. Happy playing!


So many great tips! The bottom line is that you need to make it a priority, get the right clothes, give them some freedom and just go for it! As an added bonus your kids are going to learn to entertain themselves and they will get a better night’s sleep!

Megan and her husband, David, their 2 boys, and their dog, Grizzly, live in Mt. Airy, Maryland. 
If you have questions about getting your child to sleep better, contact Megan at: megan@sleepwiseconsulting.com.

For more information on getting kids of all ages outside, I recommend reading Balanced and Barefoot*, by Angela Hanscom.

7 Sure Fire Ways to Grow Brave Girls

Every girl can be brave, if they are given the chance.

I don't mean bungee jumping, or sky-diving brave - although that is a possibility - I mean ready-to-face-the-world-with-confidence-kind-of-brave.

Now, more than ever before, is the time to make sure our girls grow up to be brave and courageous. Media stories drive fear. Schools often teach kids to regurgitate facts, rather than how to think. "No!" and "You can't" are common directives. So often girls miss out on opportunities because they don't persevere in the face of a challenge. Sadly, girls are often afraid to fight for themselves.

Whether your daughters grow up to be executives or whether they take on the demanding role of a stay-at-home mom, they are far more likely to reach their potential if we help them face the world with bravery.

Fostering bravery starts when girls are young. Rather than giving fear a stranglehold on our girls, let's plant seeds of courage and boldness and nurture them as they grow .

As a mother of three girls, I want them to face the world with courage, self-confidence and compassion, knowing that they are capable and strong. Don't you want that for the girls in our life, too?

My Brave Girls!

My Brave Girls!

7 Ways to Grow Brave Girls in a Fear-Filled World:

(By the way, many of these principles are true for boys as well but I feel like girls need more encouragement in the bravery department.)

1. Don't treat them like they are fragile

Let them play outside, climb trees and carry heavy things. I'm all about being feminine but show your girls they are capable and strong.

2. Give them space to explore and try things

Back off! Whether they are playing or trying to figure out how to build something or solve a homework problem, let them have some space to figure it out. There is so much confidence to be gained when a child finds a solution on their own. Remember, the goal is to get our girls to think, not just come to a predetermined end point.

3. Let them make mistakes

This is a hard one for us adults to do. We are so afraid that if our kids make a mistake, they will get hurt or will fall from some imagined narrow path of success. But it is so critical and necessary for our girls to understand the consequences of their actions. For instance, it is ok to let your little one play in the yard and get a scrape. Band-aids are cheap! They learn better that way than if you are always controlling the outcome. Don't micro-manage their homework or do their school projects. They need to accept their own responsibility.

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4. Let them get dirty

Getting dirty is fun. Getting muddy is even better. Did you know that digging in dirt feeds the development of their sensory system, helping them to become physically and mentally strong? But more on a heart level, getting dirty leads to bravery because it is the chance to explore, to have novel experiences, and do things that are out of the ordinary.

5. Let them use tools

One of the best things my dad did for me was let me use tools. I can remember when he taught me to use his power saw. I was probably 10. I felt so empowered. I knew he thought I was capable and it made me feel like I could do anything! This carried throughout my life. So teach your daughters how to use a hammer. When you think they are ready, teach them to use a drill and a saw. Not only does if give them a valuable life skill, it gives them confidence, feelings of self-sufficiency and pride in what they are capable of.

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6. Teach them to persevere

When I work with kids, I often see them quit at the first hint of difficulty or struggle. In order to be brave, one needs to be able to persevere through a challenge. The best way we can do this is by modelling it for our girls. Do we quit when things get hard? Or do we look for new solutions? We can also help our girls by walking them through the process. We can ask them, "What's another way we can try this?" or come along side and say, "Let's try this again." Innovation and invention doesn't usually happen on the first try. To help our girls be brave world-changers , they will need to know how to push through obstacles and persevere.

7. Coach them to be confident in their abilities

A struggle for many adult women is confidence in their own ability. While it may not be true of all women, I know it to be true for many, myself included. We need to teach our girls to have positive self-talk.

I am strong

I am capable

I have abilities

This is the mantra our girls need to have in their minds. Find ways to show them this is true and reinforce it. Study your child and foster their bent. Some will be musicians, some scientists, some athletes, some artists. Whatever strengths and abilities you see in your daughter. Foster those things. Also encourage those positive traits such as kindness, generosity and empathy. Our world needs more of that kind of brave.

So, make the decision to develop braveness in your daughters in the upcoming days. I would love to see some pictures of your daughters being brave. Post them in the comments or on the Skipping Stones facebook page.

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Learning To See Naturally

Fostering visual perception through outdoor play

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Did you know that 80% of learning is acquired through vision?

That is pretty remarkable. Visual skills are essential for your child, not only are they necessary for reading and writing, but children need visual skills to do things such as cutting with scissors, solving puzzles, coloring, feeding themselves, and dressing themselves.

Making sense of what a person sees is not just a matter of seeing clearly, otherwise known as visual acuity. This is what an eye doctor is referring to when they say someone can see 20/20.

Visual perception is the brain's ability to make sense of what it sees. It takes the visual information that comes in through the eyes and translates it into useful information.

Babies are not born with fully developed visual acuity or visual perception. These skills develop as the brain matures and as a child interacts with the environment around them. If there is a deficit in some of these skills, it can lead to difficulties with learning and performing common daily functions. As they get to be school age, it can dramatically impact their ability to perform in the classroom.

Just as many body parts need to be exercised to get stronger, our eyes and brains improve visual skills with practice

Image by Minnesota Vision Therapy Center

Image by Minnesota Vision Therapy Center

So, What can you do to foster visual skills in your child?

Playing outside is a natural way to practice visual skills. You may be doing it already and not even know it! I highly recommend getting your child outside on a regular basis to help lay a foundation for healthy visual development. 

Check out the following skills essential to vision and activities put them in practice:

Sensory Processing

  • What is it? - accurate registration, interpretation and response of sensory stimuli that are in the environment and within a child's body. Not only is the sense of sight important, the vestibular sense is critical to support the brain's ability to process visual information. This sense is located in the inner ear and signals the body about where it is in space and detects movement.

  • Activities: All kinds of movement! Swinging, rolling down hills, hanging upside down from a tree limb, running, reaching down to collect nature "treasures, "

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Figure Ground

  • What is it? The ability to locate something in a busy background

  • Activities: Finding specific objects on the ground - looking for acorns, finding leaves, looking for 4-leaf clovers, looking for bugs, scavenger hunts

Visual Memory

  • What is it? The ability to recall visual traits of a certain object.

  • Activities: Place 2 or three objects on the ground, such as a rock, a pinecone and a flower. Have your child look at them them for 10-15 seconds, then have them close your eyes. Have them describe you what they saw. Increase the number of objects and see how many they can remember!

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Visual Attention

  • What is it? The ability to focus on important visual information and filter out unimportant background visual information

  • Activities: Birdwatching is a great one for this! Finding birds in the trees, amongst the leaves demands a lot of visual attention. Cardinals and bluebirds are easier to find because of their bright colors, while other birds like doves, robins and chickadees are more hidden. Get your child an inexpensive pair of binoculars and they will love going on birding adventures. If you get them a bird identifying book for your area it will use so many visual skills! Fishing and hunting for frogs and tadpoles are great for this too!

Visual Spatial Relationships

  • What is it? Understanding the spatial relationships of objects within one's surroundings.

  • Activities: Treasure maps are great for this and children love finding treasure! Make a simple map of your backyard or a park near you and see if your child can find their way to some treasure. Then, see if they can make their own map. So many great skills at work here!

Visual Tracking

  • What is it? The ability to efficiently move eyes from one side to another while focusing on an object as it travels across one's visual field.

  • Activities: Following a bird in the air great for this. Or watching a bug as it carries something. You can also play a game rolling a ball back and forth.

Visual Discrimination

  • What is it? The ability to visually identify likeness and differences in items.

  • Activities: Take a nature walk and find things that are the same and different. Find white flowers, or find rocks that are bigger than their foot. Have them find matching objects, such a flowers or leaf shapes. Another fun idea that I love is matching nature objects to paint chip colors. Or, Find a bunch of similar objects and have them line them up in size order. I love using pinecones or rocks for this activity.

These are just a few of the visual skills we use to function in our daily lives. It is a lot more complex than you might imagine!

So, as you can see.....(haha see what I did there) there are so many fun, outdoor activities to do with children to help them develop their visual skills. They can become great nature detectives as they hone their visual skills. You will be amazed at what they start to notice and observe. Not only that, they will be preparing their minds and bodies to become great learners and readers.

What if you think your child is struggling in these areas?

You are the best judge of your child. If you think they are having trouble with some of their visual skills, talk to your pediatrician. They may recommend a visit to a pediatric opthamologist or an occupational therapist who can assess some of these visual skills.

Some possible signs of visual perceptual difficulties are directly related vision. You may see:

difficulty recognizing letters, difficulty knowing right and left, trouble dressing themselves, difficulty recognizing numbers and letters, trouble writing on the line.

Some signs may not be as obvious. These could include: trouble with self-regulation (irritability), clumsiness, frequent outbursts due to frustration, attention difficulties, disorganization, avoidance of certain tasks.

These problems are not a definitive sign of vision problems, but often are not thought to be associated with vision. Be an advocate for your child so they can get the help they need. Help them to reach their full potential

See You Outside!

-Ann-

More Stems, Less STEM

INCREASING TIME OUTSIDE INSTEAD OF INCREASING STEM ACTIVITIES

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Recently I had a librarian tell me it didn't matter what program they were running - if they just put the acronym, STEM, on it, parents would jump at the chance to sign up. I found that sad.

For those of you not familiar with STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It is an initiative being pushed in and around schools to bolster the number of students who go into science and technology related fields. While the United States has historically been a leader in these fields, only 16% of high school graduates are interested in STEM careers.

Don't get me wrong - I LOVE science and math - but I think we are taking the wrong approach. We need to sign our kids up for less adult-directed class time and give them more child-directed opportunities for hands-on, sensory rich problem-solving right in their own backyard.

They are more capable then we give them credit. Children are scientists by nature.

In 2015, Barack Obama said,

Science is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world...

He has the right idea. We want to develop kids who can tackle a given situation with critical thinking, who can deal with the crises of the present with innovative solutions and who can push through complex issues without giving up.

The answer, however, is not to increase science class time and enroll kids in more extracurriculars. Part of the solution is to go back to the basics and allow children to grow and develop in such a way that creativity, emotional intelligence and problem solving skills organically develop through play and exploration.

Remember when kids used to play outside for hours on end, only to be called in when it was time for dinner? The hardest decision was whether the stick they found would be a sword , a walking stick or a bridge. Maybe you are too young to remember that ( I'm not!).

Sadly, in addition to sitting for longer periods of time in school, pressured by academic demands, today's 8-18 year old spends an average of 7 hours 38 minutes in front of a screen every day!

Did You Know?

  • Kids who go to play-based preschools versus academic based preschools perform better academically in the long run. They also feel less stress, exhibit less behavioral problems and have more positive attitudes about learning.

  • Construction play is related to the development of visual spatial skills and these skills are related to math skills and problem solving.

  • When the way children spend their time is completely dictated by parents and teachers, children lack a sense of self-control which denies them the ability to grow stronger and more confident. This often leads to anxiety and depression.

  • Children who spend more time outside have improved emotional intelligence which not only benefits mental health but improves job skills. Workers who show higher emotional intelligence are able to work better in groups, be more flexible and adjust to new technologies. 

  • Spending time outdoors restores our brain's cognitive function by giving chances for   "effortless attention"  or non-demanding responses.

  • Risky play outdoors builds self-confidence, resilience and risk management skills in children.

  • Children given open-ended free play are able to guide their own interests and pursuits.

  • Connecting a child to nature can play a huge role in developing them to be kind, caring and compassionate.

What Can We Do?

Next time you go to sign up your child for another STEM activity, first ask yourself these things:

  1. Does your child want to do it or is it just something you are making them do because you think they need it?

  2. How much time does your child spend outside on a daily basis?

  3. How much of your child's time is directed by an adult?

  4. Does the activity allow time for interacting with other peers?

  5. Is the activity open ended or does it require a particular outcome?

Perhaps some time in the backyard or a day at the park would be a better option.

There is no question that we want our kids to face the future with a heart of compassion and the capacity to change the world for good. One of the best ways they can do that is by having the freedom to play, on a regular basis, in natural settings.

See You Outside!

-Ann-