An Overview of Last Child in the Woods

Bookcover - Last Child in the Woods

In this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.

This new edition reflects the enormous changes that have taken place since the book was originally published. It includes:

  • 100 actions you can take to create change in your community, school, and family.
  • 35 discussion points to inspire people of all ages to talk about the importance of nature in their lives.
  • A new progress report by the author about the growing Leave No Child Inside movement.
  • New and updated research confirming that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder has spurred a national dialogue among educators, health professionals, parents, developers and conservationists. This is a book that will change the way you think about your future and the future of your children.

Nature Activities for Kids and Families

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Waldorf Toys: Bringing New Consciousness to Choosing Children’s Toys

Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys and Moon Child

As a Waldorf kindergarten teacher, one of my favorite “parent evenings” to offer was on the subject of toys and play. Over the years, I don’t think there was a single parent who walked away from such a meeting without a new consciousness about choosing healthy playthings for his or her children.

At the outset of our meeting, I explained how a young child learns about the world through all her senses. Unlike adults, a baby or toddler does not rely solely on her sense of sight, and make quick judgments about things based on a visual perception.

Experiencing Toys Blindfolded

Well, I didn’t really blindfold them, but I asked parents to close their eyes and not to peek. Then I would hand each parent a different toy.

I would randomly hand out an assortment of toys from a typical child’s toy box–a Barbie doll, a metal toy car, an action figure, a baby doll with plastic head and limbs, Legos, plush animals, a My Little Pony, toys that make noise, and so forth.

Other parents would be handed toys typically found in a Waldorf early childhood classroom–things like a smooth river stone, a Waldorf doll made of cotton and wool, carved wooden animals, play silks, a wooden toy car, a handmade puppet or a shell.

I asked the parents to feel each toy, smell it, touch it to their cheek, and taste it (as a young child would) if they dared! After the adult had an experience of one toy, he would hold it up and I would place the opposite type of toy in his hands.

When it comes to toys, a baby will grasp a toy, feel it, smell it and put it in her mouth. Did you know that along with the fingertips, ours lips are full of nerve-endings and one of the most sensitive parts of our body?

Sharing the Experience

At the end of this exercise, parents would share their experiences. Typically, parents would describe feeling tense, repelled or confused when handed one of the plastic or synthetic toys, and to describe the feeling of comfort or relaxation they would feel after being handed a natural toy.

After having the experience, parents made important discoveries and had plenty to share with one another.

I invite you to try it. The element of surprise will be missing, but try experiencing different types of playthings with your eyes closed, and see what you discover.

Make a Story

In the second part of the evening, I asked parents to get down on the floor and play.

In one part of the room, I had laid out a pile of the toys typically found in a child’s toy box on the floor—an assortment that might include a Barbie, action figures, plastic dinosaurs, Happy Meal toys, metal cars and so on.

In the other room would be a pile of wool puppets, stones, wooden tree blocks, play silks, wooden animals, pinecones and so forth.

I would give each group of parents 15 minutes to play and come up with a story using their toys.  After 15 minutes, I would ask each group to switch places.

The results were almost always the same. Parents described having a hard time coming up with a cohesive story with the plastic toys. Observing them play, I noticed how loud the adults in this group would get. Invariably, the plastic dinosaurs and action figures would become aggressive and start attacking the other toys. (What else can one do with a brawny action figure?)

The stories that evolved from parents playing with the natural toys, on the other hand, were usually more like fairy tales—stories of daily life, family and animals; sometimes adventure and magic. It was always interesting to observe how quiet and absorbed in play this group of adults would become.

Observe Your Own Children

I wish I could give you the same hands-on experience through cyberspace. Words can never be as powerful as direct, experiential learning. But if you have the opportunity, observe your children and how they play with different kinds of toys. Play with them and try to create stories of your own. Observe for yourself the different qualities of play that various toys inspire.

Suspending Judgment

I’ve tried to stress to parents over the years that choosing toys is not about “good toys” vs. “bad toys.” Rather, it’s about bringing new consciousness to selecting children’s playthings.

  • Is it beautiful?
  • Does it feel good?
  • Does it leave room for the imagination?
  • Will it inspire creative play?
  • Is it open-ended? (That is, is there more than one way to play with it?)

If you can answer yes to these questions, you will be providing your child with all the tools needed for years of healthy play!

Shelby County Schools Arts Infusion Project

Shelby County Schools of Memphis, Tennessee

Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN is currently working with a U.S. Department of Education grant to infuse music and visual arts into the classrooms of ten elementary and middle schools. The SCS Arts Infusion Project provides professional development in the arts, supplies and materials and arts experiences to its member schools. The project also facilitates strong ties with arts organizations across the Mid-South region. For more information on the Shelby County Schools Arts Infusion Project, please visit: http://scsaip.weebly.com

Arts Infusion Blog

Arts Infusion Links

Arts Infusion Newsletters

Less Play Today Means Fewer Leaders For Tomorrow

This October, Play for Tomorrow and Goddard Systems take the lead nationwide in highlighting the power of play in learning.

The Exclusive Preschool Sponsor of the First National Ultimate Block Party, Goddard will spread the message with Mini Block Parties across the country.

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa., Sept. 14 /PRNewswire/ — In 1981, 40% of children’s time was spent in play. By 1997, that number had shrunk to only 25%(1). In the last two decades, kids have lost eight hours of free play per week and 30,000 schools across the U.S. have eliminated recess to make time for more academic study(2) – despite scientific findings that link recess to better concentration and more effective learning.

This October, Goddard Systems, named the #1 childcare franchise company for the ninth year in a row by Entrepreneur magazine, is taking a stand, nationally and locally, for the power of play in learning.  For the complete article, read here.

It is officially ARTS IN EDUCATION WEEK!

On July 26, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution designating the second week of September as “Arts in Education Week.”  The resolution (H.Con.Res. 275) was proposed and introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier from California.

The resolution states: […] Arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students.


Click here to read the full resolution.

Congress designated Arts in Education Week to promote and showcase the immense role arts education has in producing engaged, successful, and college and career-ready students. You can read statements made by congressmen on the House floor regarding arts education here.

Get Involved!

FIND OUT what is happening in your state.

What are the policies for including arts in education in your state? Visit the AEP Arts Education State Policy Database. This searchable database contains the latest information on arts education state policies and practices. Since 1999, AEP has gathered these data through an annual survey of arts education personnel in state education agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Check out what is happening in Memphis:

Shelby County Schools of Memphis, Tennessee

Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN is currently working with a U.S. Department of Education grant to infuse music and visual arts into the classrooms of ten elementary and middle schools. The SCS Arts Infusion Project provides professional development in the arts, supplies and materials and arts experiences to its member schools. The project also facilitates strong ties with arts organizations across the Mid-South region. For more information on the Shelby County Schools Arts Infusion Project, please visit: http://scsaip.weebly.com

Preschool Philosophies At-a-Glance

waldorf? play-based? montessori? what does it all mean?

from The Savvy Source for Parents

Schools come in all different shapes and sizes, so wouldn’t it be nice if you could make some safe assumptions about certain preschool designs?

We’ve heard numerous complaints from parents disappointed that the school design they thought they’d chosen for their children was not at all what they got. There is enormous variation even among designs that supposedly follow a prescribed plan for values, materials, instruction and school organization. Some preschools do a design well, and others do not. That said, we know you’re hungry for any knowledge that can help you cut through the clutter of information about preschools, so here is help navigating the many different preschool designs. You most likely will find variations on these and other, less common designs available in your area.

Free Play or “Play-Based”

Philosophy: Young children develop full complement of cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills best when most of preschool day includes free play with materials that can be used individually or by small groups. Free play avoids decreased risk-taking and cooperation among young children, who may feel that they have “failed” when asked to do more structured work.

Common Practices:

  • Use of hands-on materials, art and self-initiated projects
  • Free play with limits set by number of children who are able to play at a particular station
  • Limited (or no) use of worksheets and limited focus on letters and numbers

May Best Fit Children Who Are:

  • Hands-on learners
  • Exposed to literacy and math outside of preschool
  • Self-motivated learners

Predominantly Teacher-Led Instruction (or “Structured” or “Direct” Instruction)

Philosophy: Young children will best be prepared for academic success if they are taught fundamentals of literacy and math directly, using teacher-lead instruction, worksheets teaching letter and number symbols, and the like.

Common Practices:

  • Use of worksheets to teach letter and number symbols, sounds and meanings
  • Whole group activities led by teacher
  • Some free play/choice time, but not as much as play-based preschools

May Best Fit Children Who Are:

  • Lacking exposure to literacy and math outside of preschool
  • Behind developmentally in cognitive areas
  • Not strong hands-on learners, prefer to learn by looking and listening

Montessori

Philosophy: Develop culturally literate, self-disciplined children by nurturing their intelligence, independence, curiosity and creativity.

Common practices:

  • Classrooms are multi-age and students stay with one teacher for several years
  • Individual child choice about activities supporting individual learning styles
  • Materials are carefully structured to move individual children from one skill to the next
  • Task completion is valued and encouraged

May Best Fit Children Who Are:

  • Hands-on and visual learners – enjoy working with hands and visually stimulating materials
  • Not inclined to enjoy learning by listening and discussing (but some Montessori schools have many materials for small groups of students and encourage group “works” early – just ask)
  • Self-motivated learners
  • Advanced cognitively
  • Very hesitant to change and/or bond with new adults

Reggio Emilia

Philosophy: Emergent curriculum content and activities developed collaboratively by teachers and children to emphasize constructive thinking skills and the educational value of the planning and implementation process.

Common Practices:

  • Collaborative projects involving exploration, discussion and revision during process
  • Teacher is researcher who is an experimenter and learner along with children
  • Children choose activities with teacher input and support

May Best Fit Children Who Are:

  • Strong auditory learners, enjoy learning by listening and discussing
  • Strong hands-on learners, enjoy working with hands
  • Strong visual learners, stimulated by visually appealing environment
  • Exposed to literacy and math outside of preschool (academic content varies by program – just ask if this is a concern)
  • Self-motivated learners

Waldorf

Philosophy: Children learn best through experiences that awaken multiple senses and focus on capabilities.

Common Practices:

  • Students learn through experiences and personal exchange with teachers, rather than worksheets
  • Focus on developing intellectual, emotional, spiritual capabilities, not just content learning
  • Arts and physical activities used as learning tools
  • Intense study of one subject or topic over several weeks
  • Students stay with same teachers for many years

May Best Fit Children Who Are:

  • Strong hands-on learners, enjoy working with hands
  • Enjoy creative pursuits
  • Self-motivated learners
  • Exposed to literacy and math outside of preschool
  • Very hesitant to change and/or bond with new adults

Cooperative

Philosophy: Parents who know their own children’s needs can best guide a preschool toward excellence and integrate home and preschool life through significant, required parent participation in the preschool.

Common Practices:

  • Parents required to commit significant volunteer time to preschool operations
  • Strong parent community because of frequent contact at preschool
  • May use any design for curriculum and teaching method

May Best Fit Children Who Are:

  • Not applicable; preschool designs vary significantly

Race to Nowhere

“What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?”

Race to Nowhere: The Darkside of America’s Achievement Culture

This remarkable new film shines a light on the price our kids pay for this “race to nowhere.” Cheating is commonplace, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and ironically, young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people who have been pushed to the brink and educators who are burned out and worried that students arenʼt developing the skills needed for the global economy, RACE TO NOWHERE points to the silent epidemic running rampant in our schools.

RACE TO NOWHERE is a call to families, educators, experts and policy makers to examine current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become the healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens in the 21st century.

Among many others, RACE TO NOWHERE features Dr. Madeline Levine, author of the bestseller, The Price of Privilege, Dr. Deborah Stipek, Dean of the Stanford School of Education, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, an adolescent medicine specialist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Denise Pope, author of Doing School, and Sara Bennett, author of The Case Against Homework.

Vicki Abeles learned at an early age that the key to success is hard work and a good education. Raised by a struggling, single mom who encouraged her children to attend graduate school, she worked her way up from nothing to become a successful attorney and businesswoman. As a mother, Vicki wanted her children to have all the opportunities she lacked, growing up. But when her daughters reached middle school, they were overwhelmed by pressure from classes and extracurriculars. When one became physically sick, she and her husband realized they had to rethink the way they were raising and educating their children. Vicki took it upon herself to find out how our broken education system harms both children and adults, and what we can do to change it. It is this investigation that is depicted in this film. Vicki is the co-director of RACE TO NOWHERE.