Our indoorized and sedentary lives …

I’m free from the ‘mandated writing’ of a phd dissertation and back to the world of free voluntary writing of blogs …

It’s a beautiful Thursday morning, March 08, 2012. Foggy as my daughter described it in the morning, about 16 degrees C., which is very warm for Toronto. It rained a little bit but stopped and feels very fresh … we admit that the color of trees are changing and birds sound happy when Rauz and I left home this morning … you feel the change of the season … nature is getting ready for spring here in Toronto and it is a lot of work. We may notice what’s happening on the ground but missing so many other growth which is hidden from us, under the dirt, way inside the bushes, up on the tall trees, down in the waters, and high in the skies … we get to see just so little, (not considering the images on the screens that in some ways can take us to those hidden spaces too) …

Where is our place within all these changes that are happening at our home? Do we feel we are a part of it too? Is the season changing for us too?  What do we need to do to prepare ourselves for the spring and how can we do it? Or is today the same as yesterday and tomorrow for many of us? Have we limited our role to an ‘observer’? We used to fall in love, play outdoors, clean our homes, feel happy and fresh in spring …. we used to work harder and longer to make the soil ready to grow our food, we became busier taking care of the spring baby animals … We used to dance in harmony with the nature …

I dropped my daughter in her kindergarten classroom at 8:45 a.m this morning. The ‘fear’ of rain kept 24 kids and three teachers inside, they were sitting on the carpet for ‘the circle time.’  For them, today is the same day as yesterday, I’m afraid tomorrow won’t be very different. They’ll be inside, indoored, for 6 hours in school. That is the best part of the day, 9 to 3, when they are full of energy and thoughts and dreams … But they must learn to control them, hide them, and conform to our indoorized school system. they must learn to focus only on a small part of their brain, to ‘enhance’ and maximize its capacity … that’s what’s most matter today and tomorrow … it doesn’t change with the seasons … we are not dancing with nature any more …. we’ve positioned ourselves above it …  climate, natural light, wind, rain, high and low tides, the rotation of our Earth don’t really matter  much … Or do they?

I cannot accept this sedentary life that many of our children are experiencing today.  Should we reconsider the schools’ budget for various supplies,  smart boards, computers, paper work, big shows, and workshops? Can we seek some portion of it for creating spaces for our children to be outdoors in any weather condition? Should this be on the list of our ‘priorities” along with books, writing materials, desks and chairs, and computers? Can we be creative building gazebos for kids to work and play in rain? Can we provide boots,rain coats, winter jackets, and mittens for those kids who don’t come to school ready for the weather condition? We are providing along list of  notebooks, pen and pencils, posters, newsletters, breakfast,and many more, all for free? I am not suggesting any of these items are less important, but I am thinking that this list is missing a few very critical items. It is not enough to ‘tell’ our children that being active, being playful, and eating healthy are  important then allocate a fraction of their time and our supply to actually supporting them to be active, playful, and eat healthy in schools?

Think about children’s 4 and 5 digits calorie diet  in the rich countries and their sedentary life style … and ask yourself, what is the real risk to their health and well-being and what can we, as parents, educators, and citizens, do about it?


Inviting nature to our classrooms

Classrooms for young children, for example preschools or kindergartens, are often organized into ‘learning centers’ where children can explore arts, science, building blocks, writing, drama, and etc. Here is a picture of a science learning center in a kindergarten classroom for children ages 4 to 6. Natural materials, plants, manipulatives, books, and various tools are inviting children to pause, explore, ask questions, seek answers, and discover.

But, 20 kindergarteners responded differently to this center. None of the children became deeply interested in spending time in this center and engaging with the materials.  Hmm, strange.  What’s missing? What can be changed?

Perhaps the materials are representing nature out of its context; the table is blocking the children’s access to the plants and the window; the center doesn’t seem to offer many open-ended opportunities to explore scientific concepts…

But there is a big window facing a grass hill, a tall pine tree, and the neighborhood streets … a window to the world outside the walls of the classroom, a bridge to the real world … to observe and wonder … about the birds, the squirrels, the pine tree … and the people and the car traffic.

What if we move the table away from the window to give children an access to the window … but the window is high and the children are not at the same height as adults … they need something to climb up to better  see the outside … Is it okay to put a bench under the window for them to climb up? Let’s take the risk.

A bench and an open window was all the children needed to get motivated to come to the ‘science learning center’, spend time there, bring  binoculars to spy on squirrels, take photos, draw pictures on the window sill, feed the birds, and get engaged with the natural world … not for a day or two, but for the rest of the school year.

 At this new design of the science learning center, Nature is located in its context; it’s real: fresh air, cool breeze, wind, rain drops on the window, flying birds and busy squirrel, and many more. Plus the people, the cars, the children’s homes across from the street, and the neighbors.

Sometimes, a simple change can make a big difference in getting children’s attention. Let’s think outside of the box when we imagine the nature in the big cities.