blog » March 18, 2018 by Donna John

#30Seconds In-Depth: Bring on Spring & Bring on Play With Childhood Educator Teacher Karen! by Donna John

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7 months ago
#30Seconds In-Depth: Bring on Spring & Bring on Play With Childhood Educator Teacher Karen!

Spring means playtime! Whether you’re looking for ideas to keep your kids engaged while still indoors or ways to harness the outdoor allure of the season, you'll want some creative ideas. We were thrilled to welcome 30Seconds contributor Karen Whittier as our Twitter chat guest. Teacher Karen, founder of Play and Grow, showed us how to “spring into play,” with hands-on ideas for indoor and outdoor fun. Play matters in childhood!

Q: What's the best way to get kids outdoors and playing this spring?

Usually after the long, dark months of winter, kids just want to be out of their houses! Being outdoors gives them a chance to reconnect to Mother Nature. Being in the great outdoors benefits children in mind, body and spirit! For children to want to spend time outdoors, parents need to lead by example – as in all areas of parenting! Chances are, if parents are enthusiastic about it, the kiddos will be, too!

Successful outings also take into account the child’s interests. For example, if you’re child enjoys taking photos go out on a nature walk – this can be in the woods, a local park or your backyard! Let your kidlet take photos of the different flora and any fauna spotted and create a scrapbook! Add to the scrapbook by visiting at various times during the year to observe and visually document the changes. 

If you’re kiddo enjoys more creative arts activities, then this could be just the thing! You might be familiar with yarn bombing – where tree trunks are wrapped up in crochet or knitted sleeves. This activity is easy and safe for trees and gets that colorful effect! Use with sidewalk chalk softened up in water and then let your kidlet’s artistic flair take off! NOTE: This works best on trees with smooth trunks. 

Maybe your kiddo’s more a mover and groover so plan Thrills on Wheels! Biking on trails or in your neighborhood; use your bike to do errands or just to explore new parts. What you say? Your kidlet can’t ride alone? No problem! Try one of those co-pilot bike trailers! 

Does your child like to help cooking? Cooking is full of many learning opportunities! Head outdoors for a food foraging hike. There are all kinds of edible foods in the wild – if you know where & what to look for. NOTE: Never consume anything without knowing its identity. Know that a food foraging hike could be just out in your own garden, however the food was sourced, you and your child will enjoy time together cooking! 

Is your child good at spatial orientation and directions? Try geocaching! Geocaching is essentially a treasure hunt using navigational devices and coordinates to find “caches.” Sign a logbook proving you found the cache and plan your route to the next coordinates! Mr. Teacher Karen and I have gone geocaching – so fun! The event we did didn’t allow GPS devices, only maps and compass. Again, so FUN!

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of water options when going outdoors: lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean. Let your child experience what covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface by canoe, raft, sailboat or paddleboat. When home, connect your kiddo’s interest in science. ASK, “Why did our canoe, raft, etc., stay above the water?” “Why didn’t it sink?” Encourage and ACCEPT all answers! 

Fill a plastic bucket with water and give your child a chunk of modeling clay. ASK what they think will happen when they put the clay into the bucket. Let them test it out! Suggest they change the shape of the clay, transforming it into a boat. ASK what will happen when the boat is placed in the bucket. Let them test it out! Encourage different designs – add cargo (ex: paperclip) and determine which design holds the most. If you have a raft, set it up in the backyard. Before you know it’ll turn into a pirate ship, First Nation’s dugout canoe or a Viking longship – let your kidlet’s imagination go!

Q: What can kids do this spring if their weather is still winter-like?

One of the first signs of spring are the birds singing. Create a bird-themed sensory tub. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive materials and can keep kidlets busy playing for quite some time!

  • Fill a shallow, plastic container with birdseed.
  • Add some colored feathers (available at craft stores) and plastic eggs plus plastic birds.
  • Provide tools like tongs, funnels, scoops, sieves, etc., for your kidlet to use in the sensory tub.

PLAN for some spillage – put a plastic sheet underneath if you need. When you feel the sensory play is finished (could be the next day, the next week) use birdseed, feathers and add colored eggshells for your kidlet to create a collage!

Another common feature in spring: rain showers! For this art activity you’ll need white construction paper, powdered tempera paint (in at least two different colors), paint brush, hand sifter and spray bottle of water.

EXPERIMENT! Use a sheet of paper, lightly moistened with water first, and then add sifted, powdered paint, followed by additional water, if needed. Compare that technique to adding paint to dry paper and spraying with water.

In either case, your little artist may choose to mix the colors more or make additional markings with the paint brush! ASK if they’d like to keep either or both, if so, set out to dry. Remember, it’s more about the process than the product! 

At my preschool we went outdoors everyday unless the weather made it unsafe, which in the Pacific Northwest is very unlikely. But if that’s the case where you are and your kidlet needs to burn some energy off create an indoor obstacle course! Try to include obstacles that’ll have your kiddo crawling under, scurrying over, climbing up and throwing through. Encourage them to hop, jump, kick, run, in other words, to use their big muscle groups. If you have stairs, let ‘em go up and down the same number of times as how old they are! 

Competition isn’t the end all and be all, though it is kind of in my house, so, if you wanted, you could time how long it took for your kiddo to go through the obstacle course. Let them compete with themselves and try to better their time! Then reverse the direction of the obstacle course!

Q: Why did you decide to start Play & Grow?

Play & Grow was my way of meeting the needs of children and supporting parents. I’d become aware of a very noticeable quiet in my neighborhood. Where there used to be kiddos out playing with each other all the time – that was very rare. As a parent, this troubled me. Coupled with my education and experience in Early Childhood Education, I knew I needed to reach out, to share the many, many benefits PLAY offers children – to make it easier for kiddos to PLAY. Because PLAY is the natural way – the organic way – they’re meant to learn and grow! Research is clear on this. Young children learn best with hands on, meaningful experiences with real materials and interacting with real people.

So that’s the driving force behind  Play & Grow – to advocate for children by supporting their parents in promoting and facilitating PLAY! All parents want to do their very best for their children – they are their children’s first, and in my honest opinion, most important teachers.

Q: How did you go from engineer to childhood educator?

In fifth grade I had my favorite teacher, Mr. Eliason, and decided that’s what I wanted to do too. As I got nearer to the high school years, though, my dad advised me to look elsewhere. His exact words: “It’s too hard making a living as a teacher.” And sadly, considering the value of the work they do, teachers are not compensated to the degree I feel they deserve. So, I thought about what other kinds of things I would like to do – and since I loved science and math I went into engineering.

My interest in education was re-ignited when my own children entered preschool. So, I went back to school! When first thinking about teaching, I’d imagined later elementary school years, but I found I LOVED the preschool set! I LOVE everything about them – their energy, their curiosity (because I’m curious, too!), their openness, their honesty … OK, well, sometimes that one’s hard to take. For example, our preschoolers were always encouraged to share their thoughts/opinions.

Once my teaching partner paused to ask if anyone had any questions. Now anyone who’s spent even a little time with young kiddos knows that asking if there are any questions REALLY means “Who has something to say?” Following her query, Megan’s hand pops up. In a very serious voice she began, “Don’t you just hate it when, even after you wipe, your underwear gets brown?” My teaching partner and my mouths were on the floor. Are you curious to the class’s reaction? There were knowing murmurs of agreement!! Seems this had been an issue and concern of many. Who knew?!

I actually found engineering and Early Childhood Education dovetailed quite nicely – or at least the way I interpreted ECE best practices, with lots of hands-on activities using a wide range of materials and developing problem-solving, divergent and creative thinking skills. Plus, I wanted to show kidlets – boys and girls – women doing things they might not have in their socially constructed view of the world thus far. Case in point, before school started one year, a little guy came out with his mom to check out his school. He found his soon-to-be teacher on the roof looking for a leak. You could see it on his face how he had to alter his assumptions and make room for this new information. I did that many times.

Speaking of breaking stereotypes, regarding toys: If a toy is a good toy it’s a good toy for both boys and girls. Likewise, if an activity is worthwhile – say for developing fine motor skills like painting fingernails at a beauty salon or taking apart an old appliance at a repair shop, BOTH boys and girls should be encouraged to participate! One isn’t any more of a girl’s kind of play than the other! All PLAY is a dress rehearsal for LIFE!

Is it still hard to make a living teaching? YES. It’s a labor of love. Co-founding and teaching at your own preschool makes it easier, but, again, for the value of the work done compensation doesn’t come close. Society’s actions show its priorities.

Q: Are there any recommendations for children with hay fever so they can enjoy being outdoors during spring?

If your children have seasonal allergies know they still need to PLAY outdoors, but taking these precautions will make it easier on everyone! First, have their room a pollen-free area by keeping their windows shut. If you have AC, use it to stay cool.

Time their PLAY to coincide with lower pollen counts. Levels are higher in the morning and early afternoon. So instead of going outdoors after lunch, think about going outdoors first and coming in for lunch!

Be consistent on taking prescribed allergy medication, you want to stay ahead of the problem! Eyes are often the entryway for pollen so consider giving your kiddo sunglasses to wear.

Also, embrace the idea of being outdoors in cool even rainy weather – the pollen count will be the lowest then. Hot, dry and windy weather has the highest pollen count!

Q: We see that you like to pair books with activities. Why is that and do you have some spring reading books that you recommend?

For me, ECE lends itself to a holistic approach to learning, focusing on connecting children to the natural world around them and encouraging positive relationships – this happens through active learning and social activities.

READING with your kiddo is a way to strengthen your relationship plus it develops their literacy skills. Reading is a predictor for school success, which in turn is a predictor for success in LIFE. 

I also am committed to narrowing the word gap. It’s currently 30 million words – it represents a measurement of disadvantage. More affluent households communicate with their children in all forms – immersing them in language, print, song, writing. While the word gap applies to children its affects can be long-lasting. Encouraging families to read together at every opportunity, creating new generations of book lovers are my goals when I suggest books.

I use children’s books as a springboard for creating learning activities for my Go PLAY Activity Cards. The fingerplays/chants/songs/or nursery rhymes on the cards serve as another facet of language immersion – and they’re fun!

Did I already say I love children’s picture books? I do! I have weakness for them! Some spring-themed books:

Find more spring-themed books listed on my website in addition to the books suggested for Go PLAY Activity Cards. Most are for 4 to 7-ish-year-olds, but many are suitable for younger kiddos, too.

"Children are made readerson the laps of their parents." – Emilie Buchwald

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Nicole DeAvilla
I agree with you Teacher Karen that play is so important for kids to learn, to grow, and be healthy. I know we adults need enriching play too -- can't wait for your chat to happen!
Mike Prochaska
You all know already I agree with Karen. Can’t wait to spread the word on power of play
Teacher Karen
Yes you are definitely a warrior for PLAY Mike!!
Nicole DeAvilla
#PlayMatters #ThePowerofPlay :)
Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
Yay! I can’t wait for this chat. Thanks for all you share with us, Teacher Karen !
Teacher Karen
Thanks for providing this platform! Looking forward to Wednesday!
Chef Gigi Gaggero
((((Play is the work of the child )))) I love this!
Teacher Karen
True that! PLAY is their WAY!
Michael Kennedy
Awesome! I'll tune in if I'm not still running around town with the littles. #ChauffeurDadWed
Toni B
You're never too old to play! sounds like fun!
Teacher Karen
I'm proof of that being older than dirt!
Beth DiMauro
Can't wait to chat with you soon
Meredith Schneider
Tonight is going to be such a playful #30Seconds chat! 😊🎉
Jamie-May King
awesome i cant wait #30Seconds

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