Winter Tree Study

The first class in our Winter Session was spent exploring Woodchuck Hill Field and Forest Preserve. The children made observations about everything they discovered in the snowless forest. Brandy taught us how to identify local trees when there are no leaves to help us! 

When there is no snow in the winter it makes the forest extra special. You can see right through the trees and the forest floor is a treasure trove. The little adventurers collected many of these treasures and we discussed what they all were. 

This particular wild area there are numerous extra special trees growing. Weird growths, trees that do not belong in our state, different kids of trees growing twisted together. 

On this land there is a mysterious tree house that the children love to climb in to and imagine what it was used for. It even has a chimney and bunk beds so they always have some amazing ideas!

February 18th we will be going back to this wild area to see what has changed and to create some forest art!

New Years 2017

Whenever New Years Eve approaches I start to notice people talking about resolutions. Every year I make my own list and think “This year is going to be the year that I don’t forget about this list a month in!” So far I have been unsuccessful... 

It really does seem fitting that when the new year rolls around that we try to change things. Especially after this years Winter Solstice and I focused on letting go of the negative and searching for positive things to look forward to in this cold dark time. Now there should be something to work towards! 

Instead of resolutions this year I am going to focus on one word that keeps popping in my head, mindfulness

The Greater Good Science Center of Berkley College defines mindfulness in a way that is very comprehensive 

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
— http://greatergood.berkeley.edu

 

 

As an alternative to a resolution, focusing on this one word will benefit my whole family. Instead of rushing through our days doing our normal daily routine I want to slow down and really pay attention to the stage our lives are in. I need to make sure we are taking time to appreciate all that we have, and listen hard enough to know what we need. 

There are five areas of my little family's lives that so very much need some mindfulness injected into them.

Parenting

When my kids are running around like overtired loons playing and goofing around I want to be able to stop and laugh with them instead of feeling frustrated. There are times when I get so overwhelmed with all I have to do as a single mother that I seem to miss all of the joy in our world. When the anxiety and frustration wash over me from now on I will acknowledge them and explain to myself that I have two happy healthy creatures and the panic does not need to overtake our lives, but when I try to push it away it just magnifies and stays for way longer then it needs to. 

Nutrition

Normally food is super important to me. As a former baker and cook I can make basically anything from scratch, and usually that's what I do! It gives me great joy to take raw ingredients and magic them into something delicious and tasty. Then I get into this rut of making the easiest nonsense I can get Ivan to eat. The poor guy is so picky he has very limited foods. His doctor suggested I make him the meals that he enjoys and not to pressure him into trying new things. It worked like a charm, he went from barely ever eating, to eating me out of house and home. But the problem now is his foods are so easy to make that making my own healthier meal is very unappealing. Sadly as a 30 year old woman eating “kid food” is not as harmless as for my 5 year old. 

It’s very important to me that I am mindful of what I am putting in my body. It truly effects how I feel, and my health. Mindlessly eating can take a tole on me so I am hoping that with practicing mindfulness I can also move towards better nutrition choices. 

Creativity

There are times when all I want to do is drop whatever task I am doing and create something. Usually either writing or drawing is my first instinct. I think that it is time for me to listen to that impulse. Making art is so very good for our mental heath and happiness that taking time for it when it strikes should be a priority. Already the kids have been embracing this, their art shelf has been moved into easy reaching distance. All day you can see them running over and grabbing various materials when they get an idea. No need to bother with asking me to get it and lose their train of thought. It is truly changing how we see art in our house. It is no longer a task but a pure pleasure.

Purchases

This is a big one. Whenever I purchase something this year I want to really take the time to think about where it came from, what's the impact on the environment will be, and honestly do I really need this?! Let's be honest, I am a stuff getter. Time to clean out the hoard, give things to those who truly need it and only buy what is needed, clean and honest. Real will power is going to be needed here.

Self Care

I just fell asleep sitting up writing this. What more could I say about how I need to listen to my body more then that? Pushing yourself to the limit makes us Americans very proud. Lately I have been wondering why. Nothing will get done if your body and mind are so overextended that you end up sick and bedridden! 

 

On that note I am going to put all of this to use and be mindful of what my body is saying. Right now it’s saying “Go to bed you dumb dumb head!

 

How I finally Understood Sensory Integration and Why Nature Play is the Key!

Around a year ago was the first time I heard the phrase “Sensory Processing Disorder” and it really stuck with me. In this world of constant information via social media information doesn’t always stick. Phrases can pass by in headlines and blurbs without me ever notice them. But this time it was a doctor, and she was using those words in reference to my son. It was the start of this long journey of diagnosis that we are now nearing the end of. 

 

Of course I ran home and google my little heart out. Never has there been anything that confused me more. It got pushed aside while I researched the other, even more scary word, Autism. After the 15th or so book I realized I kept seeing Sensory Processing Disorder as a common disorder that goes along with the Autism Spectrum. Then Ivan started Kindergarten and his new Occupation and Physical Therapists explained sensory integration to me and what it could mean for our family. Still the lightbulb moment did not come for me. I read one book, thought I understood and made changes to our home and life. Not much changed. Then Creatures in the Wild began to grow in my busy brain and I purchased what I thought was just another book about outdoor education. Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom was my lightbulb moment. It drew the line between unstructured outdoor play and Sensory Processing Disorders that was not there for me before. Then my brain started working at full speed. 

 

Now I feel that it is my job to sum up Sensory Processing Disorder and share it with other parents. My goal is to make sure all new parents know how important sensory integration is to their child and why it is so important. No boring stats or long winded scientific explanations. Ill give you some links at the bottom if you like that kind of stuff of course, nothing wrong with stats!

 

Back before the land of internet, social media and Beyonce what did parents do with their kids all day long? They sent them outside! Children spent large chunks of their days wandering around the wild, making forts, playing pretend and getting dirty. They would ride their bikes to their friends house and catch frogs at the creek. If you lived on some land they would be helping with chores. If you lived in the city you would be at the park with your friends. Slowly over time children’s life became more structured and at earlier ages. Floor play as babies turned into bouncy seats and entertainment plastic flashy musical things. Digging in dirt and having large amounts of unstructured play morphed into play dates with agendas, special classes and lessons. Now many children are constantly busy and entertained. We are told that going out into the forest or even our backyards can be dangerous, they have to be supervised and have a planned activity! Elementary school kids are busier then most adults were 40 years ago. 

 

While time devoted to unstructured play decreases, the amount of children diagnosed with some form of Sensory Processing Disorder increases like crazy. More and more children are in occupation and physical therapy where they essentially are learning how to play! 

 

Now the important part here is how are they linked? When a child is growing from a baby into a full school aged kid (or one of those scary preteen things I’ve heard so much about) they are forming all of these really important connections in their brain. The more of these that are formed the easier it will be for kids to be able to process all of the signals that their senses are bringing in. If there are not enough of these connections formed, or they are formed in the wrong way then that’s when children start having problems with sensory processing. Some kids may have trouble with bright lights or loud noises. Some may have a touch issue, either they hate being touched or seek out touch (Ivan runs into things, leans, hugs, falls on purpose). The single best way for these super important connections to be made is lots of really high quality sensory input. There are tons of activities out there on Pinterest land to get children some sensory input but the single best way is to pack the kids up and get them into the forest. I’m talking unstructured play in the woods! Time with the sweet generous Mother Earth herself. When you make a sensory bin at home with sand and tools yes they are getting input like different touch textures but if you go outside, lets say to the beach they would be getting texture input… but they also would be digging, lifting, running to the water to fill heavy buckets, getting wet, having the sand dry on their skin, feeling the breeze and the sun. All of that works important core muscles! It gives them tons of input for their brain tubes to be making connections! They are building fine motor skills when they are picking out rocks and tiny shells to decorate their castles or just to collect. In the same amount of time they could be getting a much higher quality experience.

 

Another fantastic example of a planned sensory experience indoors compared to a child led one outdoors is this… Let’s say you go to one of those gyms with the fun ball pits and trampolines and all of that good stuff. Sure you get great input such as falling, jumping and having to dig yourself out of a ball pit. Now let’s look at going out to the woods with a group of kids and a leader saying something like “How many different colors can you find?!”. Imagine the kids running around, picking up rocks and logs to see if they can find anything underneath. Gathering plants and sticks of different colors. Getting dirty and maybe wet from stepping in a puddle. There would probably be a breeze or some sort of temperature change. At one point all of the kids would stop when they hear a really interesting bird song, asking what kind of bird it is and then talking about all of the different birds they know and what colors those are. Once they have gathered all of the colors they can find there will be piles of rocks, flowers, sticks and plants. Think of everything that they have experienced in this time, all of the senses have been triggered and connections have been made. When this is done outdoors it is almost impossible for a child to get overstimulated. The colors are natural, never bright and loud. Same goes for the sounds and smells. They are touching all sorts of different textures and moistures. At some point I’m sure they have accidentally tasted some dirt or a stone. 

 

This is it. I am fully convinced that this is what children are missing from their busy lives. The time to slow down, get outside and start working their brains is so vital to a child. And it feels as if no one is telling parents this. It’s being spoken about more now that time goes on. Parents are becoming frustrated and want a change in childhood. Kids need less pressure on themselves and more time to be kids and to play. You don’t have to completely change your life right this second. Start small, come and join a Creatures in the Wild class, see what we are all about and what kind of difference that time will make for your children. And please if you have any questions ask me! I love to talk about all of this, and this was just an overview.

 

The best part of this is outdoor play does not benefit just children with sensory issues, it is good for everyone. All children need this type of input in their lives for a million different reasons. Let’s get the creatures back in the wild!

 

See you out there,

Casey

Links: Balanced and Barefoot, Last Child in the Woods, Cedarsong, Children & Nature Network, National Wildlife Federation, American Forest Kindergarten Association