Tag Archives: Featured

Scheduling Time For Unscheduled Play

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” ~Fred Rogers.

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” Kay Redfield Jamison (professor of psychiatry)

Sand Area and Play Kitchen
Children enjoy the combination of the play kitchen with the sand area

Life is busy. There are endless deadlines, obligations, appointments, work, school, and social commitments. Packing the kids up from one place, rushing to another, finding time to eat, getting the kids ready for bed, waking up in the morning and doing it all over again. This is normal. Especially if you have more than one child. Managing busy schedules can be very challenging for parents, but even more so for children. Children are strong and resilient, but have a need for down time. Not the kind that they get in the car, either. In fact, sometimes you have to just schedule time for doing nothing.

In fact, if you want to see the relationship with your child truly blossom, just sit with them. We don’t have to always read a book, or be doing something. Sometimes, just sitting and staring at the clouds can be a bonding experience. Just sit and let them play in the sandbox. Kick a ball back and forth. It is the simplest act for a child to play, but as an adult, it can be difficult sometimes. The decision to consciously and intentionally NOT impose our own ideas of what we should do, and allowing young children the freedom to decide what to do, can be the most beneficial decision we make as parents, educators, and caregivers . This is the heart of child centered, play-based education. The spontaneous and self-determined play that a young child engages in, is probably the most important time they spend. Free time promotes resilience, creativity, and problem solving skills. So, schedule time for unscheduled play time. Your kids will thrive, and you will see a positive difference in them.

Listen to what Temple University psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and others have to say here

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Natural Playscapes for Thriving Children

by Mr. Jay

Children love to play outdoors! Having a fun, inviting outdoor play space is a necessity when working with children. I’ve been lucky enough to have some space to build a natural playscape, and it has been one of my greatest pleasures since I started working with children. Visioning, building, and then seeing the children enjoy the space has been truly rewarding.

Outdoor Natural Play Scapes
An outdoor play sink is a great way for children to play with water, sand, mud,etc.


A used kitchen sink, some 2X4 lumber, and a lot of imaginative play!
A used kitchen sink, some 2X4 lumber, and a lot of imaginative play!

Daily, I get to see the therapeutic value of play, (read what Janet Lansbury has to say about it here) and I witness children benefitting from open ended, simple, and natural materials. Mud, sand, water, wood chips, sticks, and rocks are favorite ingredients for countless kid’s recipes and games. I am grateful to  have had the privilege of fostering an environment where children are free to play as they like.

Sunken tree stumps create the border for this natural sand play area.
Sunken tree stumps create the border for this natural sand play area.

Several years ago, a large tree fell on our property. Suddenly, the expression “windfall” made perfect sense! Here was all the material I needed to make seats, benches, a sandbox, and more! So, after the investment of a quality chainsaw, and several weeks of hard work, I was able to build a playspace that I enjoyed watching the children play in, almost as much as they enjoyed playing in it! After sinking a number of stumps into the ground in a circle, we then filled the middle with sand, creating a wonderful sand play area. The problem was how to keep it clean, dry, and critters out of it. Well, a 10’X12′ tarp, bungees, and stakes solved that problem.

This is a great way to tarp your sand play area!
This is a great way to tarp your sand play area!
The sand stays clean and dry under a tarp!
The sand stays clean and dry under a tarp!

Over time, I’ve added a couple more elements, and it just keeps improving! Of course, I have more ideas than time, but the process is what is so very enjoyable. At this point in the essay, I’d like to pause and note that I could not have done any of this without Ms. Lee! 90% of all of the ideas were hers, and mostly, I just used the power tools. She helped me move huge stumps, and had an active, physical hand in all of the work. She has such an incredible vision that I often worked to help her build something (like the play sink), that I wasn’t sure how it would look, and it turned out quite nice, plus, the children absolutely love it! They use it almost daily, year round! Boy, was I ever wrong to think that a used kitchen sink in the yard would look like trash. The children have so much fun, and it looks quite nice.

Here, you can see the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods in back, left side, the play kitchen, and the sand play area, as well as the woods!
Here, you can see the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods in the back, the play kitchen, and the sand play area, as well as the woods!

The play kitchen with the sink, combined with the sand play area, is a year round favorite for the kids. I hope you are able to find some inspiration and build your own natural play space for children, too!

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This is the Early Education Movement That Will Have You Questioning Academic Preschools!

Winter Forest Sunset
A February sunset in Mt. Airy Forest

by Mr. Jay

Get ready for early education to shift paradigms, away from standardized content, towards student centered, play based outdoor education. While Common Core and state standards are becoming a fixture in public education, and the focus is on testing, student centered learning and connections to the natural world through play-based curriculum are in danger of being left out of early education. While the need to have standards is important to assess the quality of education, homogenizing curriculum isn’t the answer. In fact, individualizing and customizing education is what will ultimately raise the overall quality of education. Plus, there is plenty of research to support the idea that children’s cognitive development benefits from free play and adult led play. Parents want highly qualified teachers and solid pedagogy, and they don’t want to see their children get left behind. Well, how about no child left inside?

Outdoor Classroom and Playground
There is no better classroom, or playground than the natural environment!

Consider the foundation for learning to be the rock on which your child’s education is built. Early childhood programs are no longer a babysitter for while you’re at work, but a comprehensive educational environment in which children become students of life! It is vital that children’s early school experiences are full of joy and foster a lifelong love of learning. Outdoor education embraces a student led approach, valuing free play and organized play as a fundamental approach to early education.


Joyful Outdoor Collaboration
Children enjoy a game, collaborating, imagining, sharing, and having fun!

When we expect our children to learn to read and do math before they are ready, we deprive them of the opportunities to experience the world in their own way and in their own time. Save academics for first grade, and let preschoolers develop social skills and explore the world in an experimental, hands-on approach. Allow children time to play outside and in the woods as much as possible, engaging their curiosity, enriching their experiences, and exploring their world.

If you still feel you need a reason to ditch academic preschools, here are four from Janet Lansbury.

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What Is Outdoor Education?

by Mr. Jay

Outdoor education is organized learning in an outdoor setting. Growing in popularity, forest schools, or waldkindergartens, as they are called in Europe, are early childhood preschool/kindergartens, where a majority of the activities take place in an outdoor setting, preferably, in the woods. Of course, each outdoor education program is different, and there are many factors to take into account. An accessible woodland suitable for exploring and playing, along with a suitable shelter for extreme weather, is important. The children should become comfortable with an outdoor approach to education by introducing them to the woods gradually. Children play and become familiar with a wooded location. This area becomes a base.

Outdoor educators build trust and relationships as the children develop self confidence in outdoor settings. When the children are ready, the teacher(s) can lead a group to familiarize themselves with a trail into the woods. These initial outings allow the children to explore the woodlands while establishing physical and behavioral boundaries. Child-led projects can take place once the safety procedures, hygiene, and routines are in place, a

outdoor education
Ms. Lee leads some nature explorers!

Supporting Basic Needs First

In outdoor education, as well as all education, the basic needs of the children should be met (Maslow’s Pyramid of Hierarchical Needs). The children should be dressed properly in order to keep warm and dry in all types of weather. Healthy snacks and/or meals should be available, as well as plenty of water or warm drinks. Of course, the safety of the children, both physically and emotionally, is of utmost importance. Once these are taken care of, the learning and fun can begin!


outdoor education
Chilly morning creek explorers!

Circle Time!

Hand and finger gestures accompany simple songs and become the highlight of the circle time. In outdoor education, circles are held outside in most kinds of weather. Snacks and meals are a pleasure when eaten outdoors with friends. Children learn about plants, trees, birds, and animals which is so much fun! Children learn to recognize evidence of animals: tracks, scat, or food remains. They learn to identify fossils. Social skills are strengthened, physical skills are honed, and mental skills are built up. The foundations of outdoor education are learner-led, play-based, and nature-immersed learning.

More information:

outdoor education
A panorama of sunset in Mt. Airy Forest with snow on the ground.

Of course, if you’d like to learn more about outdoor education  Little Schoolhouse in the Woods, or find out how to contact us, you can click here.

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