Playgrounds: And the winner is…….

Every once in a blue moon, someone does something so incredibly well, that you just have to sit down at your computer and write a blog post about it. Here I am.

When I originally saw the plans for a natural playscape at Huron Natural Area in Kitchener, I got pretty excited.  Given that my doctoral research revolved around reconnecting children with nature in urban settings, and the fact that I have two children…oh heck, let’s be honest….I just wanted to go and play there myself!

Huron Natural Area (HNA) is probably the loveliest nearby green area we have found. The trails are well-marked, and boast diverse landscapes, including ponds, fields, dense forests and streams.  When you’re in the heart of it, you feel completely separated from the city. I love to take the kids hiking there, and the addition of a natural playground makes it all the more appealing for them.

Now, I have mentioned before that I don’t like standard playgrounds. Most lack imagination, have no loose parts, all look the same, and frankly, the kids get bored. I suspect most were built by planners looking in a brochure, pointing to a picture, and saying “that one.” I have seen other attempts at “natural playgrounds” that appear to be built more for adults than children, and offer little to no challenge, loose parts, or creativity. But, let’s not dwell on those.

Not this time. This time, someone got it right.

At the HNA playground, there are places to hide, plenty of loose bits and pieces to play with, a giant sand pit with a water pump and a plethora of shovels, buckets and hollowed out log troughs to move around. There is a giant climbing structure with a net underneath (and…gasp…high places where kids can climb and potentially fall from). There are trails of logs and stones to climb and hop across and a slide in a hillside. There are little touches, like paths of animal footprints to follow in the sidewalk, and hollowed conversation benches. There is even one seemingly unintentional pile of huge logs that looks like it was just dumped there (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t). That was my son’s favourite part (sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it this time). Elementary schools come to visit HNA frequently, and when they do, there is a trailer that gets opened that is chock full of bits and pieces to build and explore with. This is really hard to capture in a photo, and it is even harder to visualize how it will look when all of the planted trees and shrubs fill in, but I know it will be spectacular.

This playground took a great deal of knowledge about how children learn and develop, how they like to play, and how to help them reconnect with nature. It is also beautifully designed to integrate with the landscape.

I do not know the people who built this playground, but I am delighted that they did.

If one of the people involved in the project happens to come upon this post, THANK YOU! This is something we desperately needed here, and serves as a beautiful example and inspiration for future projects.

You can see the plans and more pictures (which were taken earlier than mine) here:

http://www.kitchener.ca/en/livinginkitchener/HuronNaturalAreaPlayscapesProject.asp

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Littlest Birds

There’s nothing like gardening to turn you into a lover of spring. There’s something about
watching the first buds emerging on the trees, seeing tiny bunnies hop away into the bushes and hearing the first IMG_20160510_144550238_HDRsounds of neighbourhood children playing outside after an ugly, wet, miserable winter.

Right, parenting also makes you appreciate spring. Boots, hats, coats, scarves, snowpants and mitts: be gone!

I love to watch tightly wrapped buds gradually unfurl, making way for wrinkled, crumpled leaves that start to offer a hint of their future magnificence. In the past two weeks, the trees were just starting to put on their underwear (as members of my family sometimes call it), and BAM! Two days later, we had leafy canopies.

But, speaking of gardens and spring and parenting, we were also granted a particularly entertaining piece of luck this season. A couple of cardinals decided to take up residence in our garden and start a family.  Using a ladder, my husband found their nest safely tucked into the tangled top of our mulberry bush, filled with three squeaking, hideously adorable little babies. Nearby, mom and dad hopped from tree to tree, chirping their dissatisfaction with us.IMG_6488.jpg

IMG_20160512_100814090.jpgAfter a couple of days, all the babies had left and we thought they were gone, until my husband heard noises and saw bright red cardinal daddy swooping around. In the dark, with a flashlight, he found one fledgling, looking slightly stunned, sitting by the side of the house. Later, IMG_20160512_142229520they graduated to our back yard, where one particular little one spent a few days hopping between our climbing structure, the hammock and our naturalized area, as he learned to fly in longer and longer spurts. Mom and dad took turns watching out for him. Of course, shortly after, once he had mastered flight and could make it up and over the fence, they were gone.

Safe travels little birds! Come back and
visit sometime!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Science: A Safe and Effective Cure for Homeopathy

Once in a while I like to step away from my typical themes, and address an issue that I feel deserves attention. Today, that issue is Homeopathy.

Now, I do realize that this article is going to make some people uncomfortable, and others will entirely disagree with me. I urge you to keep reading, please don’t dismiss this post outright, consider the evidence presented here, do your own independent research, and come to your own conclusions.

Homeopathy is one specific branch of Naturopathic medicine. Let me make this abundantly clear: I am NOT talking about the entire field of Naturopathic medicine, which I believe has much to offer people seeking complementary, holistic, alternative health treatments. Homeopathy is ONE branch.

In this post, I will explain why I feel that homeopathy is not only a sham and a waste of money, but also a dangerous and irresponsible system of alternative treatment. That said, I believe most of the practitioners who are prescribing homeopathic treatments are doing so with good intentions, and incredibly bad science.

When it comes to health, it can be really difficult to know who to trust. Sometimes, homeopathy4conventional treatments come with side effects that can be as bad as the symptoms of the illness. Pharmaceutical companies have a bad reputation of being motivated only by money, and of pressuring doctors to promote their products. Often, doctors have little time to deal with patients thoroughly and in a holistic manner, often missing things or dismissing patient concerns. It is easy to understand why people would  lose faith in the system and seek alternatives. These are some of the reasons why alternative health care has gained so much momentum.

When we find a remedy on the drugstore shelf labelled as “Safe and Effective,” how many people would question that? When we see that Health Canada has assigned a Drug Identification Number which technically requires the substance to be “safe and effective,” who are we to argue?

Most wouldn’t, and one source states that over $2.9 Billion was spent in 2007 on Homeopathic products in the USA, and that number has continued to increase dramatically. I couldn’t find a more current number that didn’t conflate all natural products and homeopathic remedies, but you can bet it is much higher.

What is Homeopathy?

(This description of homeopathy comes from the website of the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicinehomeopathy1

Homeopathy was conceived by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. It is based on something called the “law of similars.” Overall, homeopathic medicine is intended to stimulate the body to heal itself. The way practitioners claims it can do this, is by exposing the body to a minute amount of the problematic substance, and letting the body figure it out from there.

(It sounds almost logical, until you look closely at the actual mechanism.)

A common example is the remedy for insomnia. The theory is that if large doses of caffeine cause sleeplessness, then minute amounts will do the reverse.  The amounts are so minute that there will be no side effects or addiction.

Now, let me explain what they mean by “minute.”

Serial Dilutions

Here is an instructional page for practitioners on how to dilute a substance. 

When you look at a label on a remedy, 1C (sometimes written 1CH) means that 1 part of the “mother tincture” is combined thoroughly with 99 parts water and alcohol. 2C would add 1 part of the 1C dilution to 99 parts water and alcohol, and mixed thoroughly. 3C = 1 part of that to 99 water and alcohol…and so on.homeopathy3

A label of 200C means this dilution procedure was repeated 200 times. According to homeopathic practitioners, the higher the C value, the more potent the substance becomes.

 

Here is a direct quote: “By the time the homeopathic remedy has been potentised to the stage of 12C or 24X it is impossible to detect any molecular trace of the original substance within it. It has become a “sub-molecular” medicine free of chemical side effects.“   Remedies are often diluted thousands of times more.

No. Molecular. Trace.

Alarm bells going off yet?

homeopathy9

THERE ARE NO ACTIVE INGREDIENTS IN HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINE, and the less likely it is to contain active ingredients, the stronger it is.

Still following? Just wait for it….

Water Memory

This brings us to “water memory,” or the idea that water retains a memory of the substance it was originally in contact with. A drop of the water is dripped onto a sugar pill and then allowed to evaporate.

These sugar pills are what you buy in the store. Safe? Yes. homeopathy10They are sugar pills. Side effects? No. They are sugar pills. Effective? They are sugar pills. You tell me.

Interestingly, the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine links directly to a Wikipedia page to describe the founder and his work. Wikipedia goes on to completely discredit homeopathy. (I find that amusing.) Look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy  While I don’t use Wikipedia as a perfect source of information, it is a useful tool for finding relevant links to good sources.

The principles on which Homeopathy is based contradict basic principles of modern medicine, chemistry and physics.  

Are Homeopathic Remedies Effective?

There are plenty of things in the world that we don’t understand that still work. Let’s suspend our disbelief of the mechanism for a moment, and take a look at efficacy. If double-blind, randomized clinical trials were to establish efficacy, that could indicate there is something at work here we simply don’t understand.

But, unfortunately for homeopathy, actual science screams NO. You can search for the evidence if you like (please look at both sides), but a massive meta-study, published in Australia in 2015, concluded: “Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”

Why do people think they work?homeopathy2

 Many theories have been postulated about why people think homeopathic remedies work. The most common is the placebo effect. If people think they are receiving an effective treatment, they are likely to feel better. This is basic psychology. Article on placebos. They are also often paired with reassuring images.

This article concludes that the better the scientific methodology in a study, the lower the evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness. Poor science can lead people to false conclusions, and more opportunities to have results that are tainted by bias. There is also a common problem in journals, where positive outcomes are published, and negative outcomes are not. This also leads to inflated perceptions of positive effects (even for real medicine).

homeopathy7In addition, holistic medical practitioners are more likely to spend longer with patients, address many issues at once, and look at the whole body as a system. This type of attention goes a long way toward making a person feel better, and should definitely be incorporated into mainstream medicine. Too many things are missed by doctors focusing only on one particular symptom or system in the body. The expensive remedies prescribed and often sold by homeopathic practitioners have nothing to do with this, but it would be easy to make that mistake.

So people waste their money and think they feel better. What is the harm?

People waste their money on all sorts of questionable things. Justin Bieber’s hair clippings sold on e-bay in 2011 for $40,668. How is this different?homeopathy6

I believe that people should know what they are buying. I suspect that the person buying Justin Bieber’s hair might be upset if they found out it was just some water from Lake Huron, where he probably went swimming once, and would therefore have a memory of his hair.

Also, homeopathic remedies are often prescribed for serious life-threatening illnesses, as an alternative to actual medicines. See here: http://www.cancure.org/12-links-page/121-homeopathy. These “treatments” may be perceived as preferable to unpleasant treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy, because they have no side effects (for obvious reasons). But, in these cases, avoiding or delaying real treatment is dangerous and irresponsible on the part of the practitioner.

homeopathy5Homeopathic “alternatives” to vaccines are called “nosodes.” These are made by diluting infected specimens (such as infected saliva or feces) to undetectable levels. When these are administered in place of actual vaccines, children run the risk of catching and spreading diseases that can be effectively avoided with traditional vaccines. The anti-vaccine movement has been responsible for the alarming resurgence of diseases such as measles.The Canadian pediatric society agrees nosodes are no substitute.

Aren’t they approved by the government?

There is a great deal of debate about how homeopathic remedies in general should be regulated or tested by the government. I found that Health Canada is surprisingly lenient when it comes to natural remedies. Health Canada approves natural remedies with very little evidence, provided the substances pose no harm to consumers. Efficacy is not tested.

Nosodes are NOT approved by Health Canada as an alternative to vaccines, and there are certain rules about labeling the products. However, I strongly believe, like this journalist, that the government should be banning these substances altogether.

Here are some very disturbing videos by CBC Marketplace that shed light on the industry:

In the following episode link, Marketplace journalists set out to get approval from Health Canada for an entirely made-up “remedy.” http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2014-2015/drugstore-remedies-licence-to-deceive.

This episode describes Homeopathy in detail: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2011-episodes/cure-or-con

In Conclusion

After all of this, I hope you will examine the evidence further. There are plenty of people claiming to offer evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness, but their methods, controls and sample sizes should be carefully evaluated. Systematic reviews that evaluate results and methodologies across many studies are often the best way of determining real effects.

PLEASE DO NOT SIMPLY TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. I am not a medical doctor, and am not qualified to offer medical advice. I am only hoping to shed some light on an issue that I feel is not well understood.  But, in my opinion, Homeopathy is something best left in the history books, along with bloodletting, heroin-laced cough syrup, and rubbing mercury on cuts and bruises.

Live long and prosper, my friends!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“That Don’t Impress Me Much”

From the first time we try to convince our toddlers that the toy INSIDE the cardboard box is, in fact, the real present, we are imposing our value system on them. We tell them what is important, what is interesting, and how they should be spending their time and attention.IMG_20130204_125905.jpg

And at every turn, despite our best efforts, they defy us.

We spend years carefully crafting homemade dinners, Hallowe’en costumes, and birthday party favours, only to have them rejected in disgust for the “more desirable” store-bought, mass-produced versions.

It can be hard to impress kids, particularly if you’re their parents. Whether you’re trying to show off your  awesome swing dance moves, your fabulous cooking skills or your ability to sing all the lyrics to “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” chances are these talents will go unappreciated if you seek the wrong audience. We take them to our favourite places, and they whine “can we go home now?”

Why are kids so hard to impress?

This was illustrated perfectly for my husband and me on Easter weekend. We had a tremendous ice storm, which led to treacherous roads, power outages, downed tree limbs, and the most spectacular, dazzling, ice-covered enchanted wonderland of a city. This only happens once every couple of years or so. My husband and I stood by the windows in delight, fascinated by the glittering trees, and jumped outside with the camera whenever the sun would peek through the clouds. Each twig was encased in crystal.

We dressed up the kids to take them out to the local woodlot. It would have been a truly magical experience, if it hadn’t been thoroughly ruined by a 4-year old who promptly sat down on the sidewalk and cried about an imaginary injury that had paralyzed his legs. (A note to the more caring and sympathetic parents among you: This “injury” has been popping up every time he doesn’t want to do something.) We kept going, enduring constant howls and declarations of injustice. (If anyone can explain how walking in the woods is “unfair,” I’d like to know.) But, we pushed on, “Can’t you see the magic?”

Last weekend, we took them to the Science Centre. The best part of the day for my youngest? The escalator. I kid you not. We could have saved $100 and gone to Sears instead.

And, by the time they’re cynical teenagers, forget it.

The only thing we can really hope is that some of our intentions rub off on them by the time they grow up. And, I do have hope. It would be easy to say that it’s just this generation of children, that they don’t appreciate what they have and only are entertained by screens these days. But, I’m not convinced of that. Here’s why: I remember desperately wanting the plastic store-bought Hallowe’en costume. I remember being dragged on family car trips, bickering with my sister, and, in general, complaining a lot. I remember being entirely unimpressed by a lot of things. Sorry Mom and Dad.

But, I grew up, and somewhere along the way, I grew to understand the value of the homemade dinners and the time in nature, and to develop an appreciation for the beauty of the world.

So, here’s my plan: I will accept that my children have the right to choose what makes them happy, and where they find value in the world. I’m going to stop worrying about impressing them, but I will continue to revel in the beauty of nature, to cook elaborate homemade meals, and to sing the Fresh Prince lyrics with abandon, because these things make ME happy.

Maybe one day, some of the same things will make them happy too.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Trails for what ails you

I don’t tend to see things in black in white. I believe most issues are complicated, thorough evidence can be hard to come by, and valid arguments often exist on both sides of a debate. But in this case…I’m going to just go ahead and say:

Hands down….

No point in debating….

All signs point to the fact that….

Time spent in nature is good for your health. 

In fact, it is hard to come up with very many health conditions that can’t be improved in some small (or possibly large) way by contact with nature.  This isn’t going to be comprehensive by any means, but let me give you a few examples.

Mental Health:

Depression, Anxiety and Stress

This is probably the biggest field where time in nature has demonstrated significant power over health and quality of life.ache-19005_640

It is possible that our disconnection with nature was a driving force behind the pandemic of depression and anxiety in society today. It would be impossible to ethically experiment or tease apart the variables, but it does seem a likely candidate as a contributing factor.

This article looks at the link between stress and access to natural areas.

Psychology researchers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have done a great deal of research on the topic of environmental psychology and have found a strong association between stress reduction and time in nature. Their book “The experience of nature” addresses this thoroughly.

Attention Deficit Disorder

I highly doubt that it was a coincidence that Richard Louv picked the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” for his popular theory on children’s dissociation with nature. Researchers have demonstrated how children with Attention Deficit issues can improve their symptoms through nature contact.

Physical and Mental Health Link:

Mental Health and Physical Health are so closely related, that symptoms and suffering experienced due to physical illness can often be improved by dealing with mental health. In Mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy, they call mental suffering the “second arrow.” We suffer once from pain, and a second time from thinking about the pain, and replaying things over and over. Another blogger explains it here.

So, it can easily be said that any of the mental health benefits we attain from time in room-928653_640nature, will be transferable to our physical health. Here’s a great example:

Hospital studies found that views of nature out of a window significantly improve patient outcomes, including reduced need for pain medication and shortened stays (See here, and here, for examples).

But, there are also more direct physical health benefits.

Physical Health

Obesity

One of the biggest health problems in North America today is the obesity epidemic. Obesity leads to a host of other health problems, and is appearing in younger and younger children. I don’t think I really need to tell you that physical activity is one of the keys to battling obesity, but it does bear mentioning that a community that promotes active transportation, and provides pleasant options for walking or cycling (such as a network of trails) is likely to be more successful in this battle.sphygmomanometer-915652_640

 

On that note, any health conditions that can be improved by physical activity would be subject to this argument. Regular physical activity helps prevent countless conditions, but it can also improve existing ones. While we’re on this, I might as well say that physical activity improves lung function, heart muscle strength, and blood pressure. It reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack, and helps regulate blood sugar. (National Institute of Health) 

BUT! you may argue, there are other ways to get physical activity. Yes, there are. But where would you rather go for a jog?

 

So, these might seem a little obvious….but wait, there’s more!

Immune FunctionSurgical-mask

In Japan, something called “Shinrinyoku” or “Forest Bathing” has become a popular health treatment. These researchers found improved immune function resulted from time in nature.

Blood Pressure

There is also a measurable reduction in blood pressure during “forest bathing.” This may be in addition to the blood pressure benefits from regular exercise, but I’m not entirely sure.

Myopia

Nearsighted? Me too. But, increasing time spent outdoors may help prevent the development of myopia. Too late for me….but what about the kids? Check out this meta-analysis.  

InsomniaIMG_3778

The artificial light sources that we experience for most of the day are likely messing with our circadian rhythms. Want a reset? Try camping!  This wasn’t a huge study, but if the results tell me to go camping, I’m in.

I don’t really have to stop there, but this is getting really long. Thanks for reading this far by the way.

So, whether you’re suffering from Insomnia, Myopia, Anxiety, Heart Disease, Attention difficulties, or, if you just need a break from American Politics… there’s a trail for what ails you.  

 

Sources:

Faber Taylor A, Kuo FE, Sullivan WC. (2001) Coping with ADD: the surprising connection to green play settings. Environ Behav. 33:54–77.

Grahn, P & Stigsdotter, U. (2003). Landscape Planning and Stress. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening Vol 2, pp 1-18 (2003). Urban & Fischer Verlag, Jena

Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S. (1989) The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9-17.

Mao G.X., Cao, Y.B., Lan, X.G., He, Z.H., Chen, Z.M., Wang, Y.Z., Hu, X.L., Lv, Y.D., Wang, G.F., Yan, J. (2012). Therapeutic effect of forest bathing on human hypertension in the elderly. Journal of Cardiology. 60:495-502.

Raanaas, R. K., Patil, G., & Alve, G. (2015). Patients’ recovery experiences of indoor plants and views of nature in a rehabilitation centerWork, 53(1), 45-55.

Sherwin JC, Reacher MH, Keogh RH, Khawaja AP, Mackey DA, Foster PJ.(2012) The association between time spent outdoors and myopia in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ophthalmology. 119(10):2141-51

Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 224:420-422.

 

Other Websites and Articles:

National Institute of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/phys/benefits

Scientific American article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trouble-sleeping-go-campi/

http://beinghappiness.com/how-mindfulness-helps/

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cars vs. Pedestrians: School Edition

Two weeks ago, a headline in our local paper caught my attention:
“Parking rules too tough on parents, guardians?” The article went on to explain that city councillors in a neighbouring community are having staff review school zone parking rules that are “making it hard for parents and guardians to drop off and pick up students.”

Wait … what??

Parking rules around schools are there for a reason.

These zones are designed so that school buses have a safe place to stop, so that traffic is dispersed and children are able to safely benwalkingcross roads near the school, and so that idling, polluting cars are kept away from heavy pedestrian areas. These areas are important, and need better enforcement.

I quickly wrote a letter to the editor, which was published, but I felt the topic deserved some attention here on the blog as well.

“But I’m too busy to walk!”

In an ideal world, children would be walking to and from school all the time. But, I’m not trying to argue that people always have this choice. Realistically, that isn’t an option for everyone.

We are all busy with jobs, appointments and lessons.  (And, of course, trying to maneuver a sled, stroller or screaming, slow, smaller sibling through un-shovelled slush and sticky snow is not simple). As much as I’m in favour of getting kids to walk, this year we only manage to walk home in the afternoon. We live a 25 minute walk (if my turtle-esque children are walking with me) from the school. I think we are actually at the furthest edge of our school zone.

So, I get it, people (myself included) are going to drive.

But, under what conditions can a parking spot a block or two away from the school be considered a hardship? The only exception, as someone brought up in response to the newspaper letter, would be for someone with a disability. But, there are designated spots for that.

So, can we stop pretending we are so busy we can’t afford the five minutes to walk a block? Let’s just acknowledge the fact that running late typically comes from poor planning, and that avoiding a block of walking by parking for twenty minutes in front of the school is sheer laziness. Of course, I am sometimes guilty of laziness and poor planning, but it doesn’t mean I park in the bus zone.

What are the implications of this behaviour?

I am comfortable walking all around the neighbourhood with my kids, even near busy streets. But, there is one place where my heart starts to race, and that’s in front of our school.

We have rules. They are not followed.

We have crossing guards, but only in two locations on one side of the school.bus

At our school, parents race their cars for the prime spots right in front of the building, in the areas designated for school buses. A whole line of cars idles along the road in the winter for a full 20 minutes before the bell rings. They park right up to and inside the intersections, completely blocking crosswalks. I regularly see cars doing u-turns in our crosswalks and three-point turns right in front of school buses. I see cars using driveways to turn around, zipping right onto sidewalks where small children are trying to walk. I see these things every single day and someone is going to get hurt.

Once in a while, there is a bylaw officer handing out tickets. On those days, the rules are followed. When there is no officer, everyone goes back to the same patterns. Maybe the by-law officers need to start jumping out from behind trees?

“What can we do?”

If there is one place in our community that we have to put pedestrian safety ahead of traffic convenience, it is at our schools. We need our children to be able to safely navigate the streets near the schools, and we need to make the idea of walking home desirable and possible again. This will take cooperation from children, schools, parents, community members, law enforcement and politicians.

In summary:

  1. Ideally, when possible, children should be walking to and from school. Recent Ontario research indicates that 42% of children are driven to and from school today, while only 13% of their parents were. (http://www.saferoutestoschool.ca/) Children are getting nowhere near the necessary amount of exercise, and obesity has become an epidemic.
  2. When walking isn’t an option, safe parking zones away from the front of the schools are typically indicated. These must be clearly presented by the schools and observed by parents.IMG_20140106_154109
  3. If walking a block is uncomfortable in the winter, we can wear boots, and scarves, and snowpants (whatever it takes).
  4. We know better than to idle our cars, right? We don’t? Here you go: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/cars-light-trucks/idling/4415
  5. More by-law enforcement is needed around schools (or at least ours).
  6. There is no excuse for making a u-turn in a crosswalk. Period.
  7. City rules MUST put pedestrian safety ahead of traffic convenience, especially near schools.

Ok, this Mama Bear is done for now. Please help me keep my cubs safe.

Thanks for reading!

If you have seen good solutions to these problems, I welcome you to share them in the comments. Every school has a different set of issues, but I know many of these are common.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malleable Landscapes

Many animals are engineers. Beavers build dams, spiders build webs, termites build buildingsmounds, and humans build houses, bridges, log cabins, towers, and monuments. Small humans build snow forts, tree houses, lego castles, and blanket and clothespin hideouts.

I’ve always been fascinated by child-created spaces. I’ve been watching the landscape around my son’s school gradually change over the years and across the seasons and it got me thinking about how important this process is to child development.

 

bmx-574915_640

In a small forest behind the school, kids constructed a large dirt half-pipe in order to do tricks on their bmx bikes. This was not sanctioned by the city, but the city is aware of it, and (somewhat to my surprise) decided to let it stay.

In the warmer seasons, the sand beneath the play structure in the schoolyard becomes pitted with giant holes dug by the students. Interestingly, (or vexingly, to this laundry-weary mom) my young son is far more drawn to these muddy holes than he is to the play structures.

This winter, as the snow comes and goes, I have been watching the landscape change drastically every day. We’ve seen holes and tunnels, sliding hills, piled up ice bricks and sculpted fortresses. There was a fabulous ice patch going down a hill that the kids loved to slide down, until some grown-up discovered this and put salt down (I get it…. head injuries, lawyers, yadda yadda. Sigh. Grown-ups are no fun.)

Doesn’t a freshly plowed giant pile of snow make for the most spectacular malleable landscape though? New materials arriving at no cost all the time! Unfortunately, as the temperature creeps up to 10 degrees Celsius today, we have little to no snow left. What? It’s February! Come ON!

It isn’t just the joy of creating something though. When given the opportunity, children love to find ways to hide away from disapproving parental eyes (where they are free to lick icicles and make bathroom jokes). Perhaps it stems from our perch-547294_640evolutionary history, when our biggest threat came in the form of human-eating carnivores rather than “mom’s angry face,” but humans instinctively like to have places to hide.

I’ve spoken before about the idea of “adventure playgrounds” which host an abundance of loose materials and tools to build with, experiment and explore. They have caught on in many places around the world. Natural playgrounds that employ naturally occurring land features and materials for playing, climbing and building are also gaining in popularity. In the summer, when it is complete, I’m going to post about a new natural playground in my community that I’m very excited about. Unfortunately these ideas are tricky to balance (and often to gain approval) in our increasingly litigious society, where no one wants to take personal responsibility for safety.

But, if we can create more opportunities for children to build their own challenging environments, they will learn skills that cross so many domains. Think of the possibilities: social skills and cooperation, coordination and balance, engineering and math (just to name a few). They’re also spending time outside, and getting physical activity. If you follow my blog, you may have heard about a few advantages of those two things.

Allowing children to fully engage with environments is so important in their development of self-efficacy, as well as their ability to learn about appropriate risks. Once in a while I still have to remind myself to take a step back, and just watch what my children are capable of creating.

For further reading, check out David Sobel’s book called: “Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood.”

Photo Sources: Me, and Pixabay.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment