The loneliness in technology

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I attended a lecture a couple of months ago about the benefits of technology on young children. Prior to this my views of technology and children were very negative and I felt that the two should be kept separated. However, the lecture opened my eyes and widened my knowledge about the topic.

The conclusions drawn were very much focused on the view that educational games do no harm to children, in fact they can aid in their development. The time spent using such technology should however be limited and monitored by parents and guardians. Children should not be given the opportunity to become so attached to technology that they forget the real world exists.

The problem is however the TV. If parents were to sit with children and talk through the progammes/films they are watching with them, then this is ok. Children are therefore given the opportunity to explain what they are seeing or can ask questions about anything they don’t understand. However, this is not the case in most households. Rather, children are placed in front of the TV or a tablet and left alone to watch endless episodes of Peppa Pig. There is no interaction with those around them. No opportunity to talk. No opportunity to learn. No opportunity to play. No opportunity to develop.

Yes, technology does have its benefits. It’s not all bad. What we must remember is that it shouldn’t become a way of life and just another part of the day. I understand that times are changing and technology plays a large part in our lives. I for one would struggle to cope without it! But, for children it should be limited. Children should be outside exploring, playing with toys, colouring in pictures, drawing to their hearts content, reading books, doing puzzles, socialising and just generally be a child. There is plenty of time for computers, mobile phones and iPads in the future.

Norwegian Forest Kindergarten

I have spent the past week in Oslo, Norway soaking up the culture, exploring and celebrating the children.

Whilst there I had the pleasure of going to a Norwegian Forest Kindergarten. I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. I am extremely passionate about children being allowed to be children and I feel as though being in the natural environment allows children to prosper.

I could not praise the Norwegian school system enough. Everything about it sounds appealing to us Brits. Although not compulsory, children may attend Kindergarten from the age of 1 to 6 before beginning formal school aged 7. Kindergarten must be paid for but the Norwegian parents see this as an investment in their child’s future and therefore the majority of 1 to 6 year old son attend some form of preschool. Schooling for 7 to 13 is provided for free as is University.

What impressed me the most about the forest Kindergarten was the level of independence the children had. I observed a group aged between 3 and 6 year olds and it was astounding to see how able they were. Yes, there were teachers around but they weren’t teaching the children they were simply observing them and playing with them. The children were active in there learning. The children were able to explore however they wished and how far they wished. Unlike the British forest school I attended, there were no barriers. The children were able to simply explore the forest as they desire.

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The ground was not cleared for the children but rather left uneven and natural resulting in the children having the negotiate some branches and tree stumps.

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The level of trust the teachers and supervisors had for the children was eye opening. The children were allowed to wander off and explore. There were many points throughout my visit where I couldn’t even see some of the children as they were hiding behind a tree stump or had wandered off into the woods. But, the teachers did not worry, they knew that the children would return. They just accepted the fact that children do explore and enjoy having some alone time to gather their thoughts.

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The children were also very sociable and it was clear that they looked out for one another. Although the language was obviously a barrier as I spoke no Norweigen and the children spoke no English, it was evident that the children’s language skills were highly developed. The remote location allowed for little noise meaning the children could really hear one another and could listen to the sounds of nature. Below is a picture of two little boys fishing in the stream that ran through the forest.

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There were no toys in the forest as you would expect to see in a ‘normal’ nursery/pre school but rather the children made their own entertainment. As you have seen above the boys enjoyed fishing, the children enjoyed climbing trees and had even built a tree house, the children also used a mossy slippery area as a natural slide and used the broken tree next to it as steps up to their slide. The children also seemed very immersed in the natural environment. The manager of the kindergarten explained how the children knew which wild mushrooms and berries were safe to eat. The children themselves seemed to love touching the insects and learning about them. Below is a picture of a frog.

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I spent some time with a little girl who was investigating ants. She spent a large proportion of time just watching the ants, picking them up and then using a stick to pick them up in order to get a closer view of them. It was a delicate process in which the ant would fall off the stick but she persevered and you could see the pride in her eyes when she finally managed to pick up the ant using the stick.

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The children seemed genuinely happy and we’re full of life and laughter. Although the learning was not formal it was clear to see how developed the children were physically, socially and mentally. They were children being children. A rare sight in the UK and America where rigorous testing begins at such a young age. Seeing a proper Norweigen Forest Kindergarten has truly opened my eyes to what is out there and how happy children really can be.

Classroom or dance studio…

The classroom isn’t for all children.

I just finished watching a programme called ‘The Tiny Tots Talent Agency’ and was blown away by the enthusiasm one of the children had for Musical Theatre. The young boy had ADHD and Autism which prevented him from going to mainstream school which resulted in his mother home schooling him. The mother explained how if she made her lessons active her son would be engaged but, as soon as a lesson involved picking up a pen and writing, he had no interest. What fascinated me was how much potential the boy had in dance. Instead of being cooped up in a classroom, the mother followed her sons dream to perform and enrolled him in part time dance lessons. Unlike in school, the boy excelled. He was praised. He was aloud to be loud. He was aloud to dance whenever he wanted. He was happy.

The programme follows him as he attends an audition at the prestigious London dance school – Pineapple Dance Studios. It is evident that he loves what he is doing and is happy to be there so it’s no surprise he is awarded a place. The theatre school focuses purely on Musical Theatre with no formal academic lesson given.

What particularly captured me about this story was that in school the boy was seen as a failure and unwilling to learn but as soon as he was dancing and being active, all the troubles went away. It made me think how many children out there are simply misunderstood. Yes, education is important but, for some children being active holds more importance. I’m not saying that children shouldn’t be taught to read and write but what I am saying is that more children need to be given the chance to excel in non – academic areas. If schools were to place more of an emphasis on sports, physical education, music, drama and dance then I feel that more children would feel as though they are achieving highly in something. Some are good at maths whilst others are good at drama. Too much of an emphasis is placed on academic skills but there is more to life than times tables. Let children be active. Classes don’t need to be restricted to sitting at a desk, take children outside, let them run free and see what they discover in the environment around them.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-tiny-tots-talent-agency/on-demand/61665-004

In the forest

Today I had the pleasure in visiting a Forest school for the first time.

Prior to the visit I was unsure as to what forest school actually involved but I was completely astounded by the enthusiasm of the staff and the school environment as a whole.

I feel as though no other school setting will ever compare to a forest school. Children learn so much by being in the natural environment. The guide had mentioned how one of their practitioners had previously worked as a primary school teacher yet was amazed by how fast the children at forest school develop. The sounds of the environment are so calming that children are relaxed and comfortable with one another. For shy children it brings them out of the shell and allows for their inner explorer to take hold. Those who have difficulties in mainstream education tend to excel in forest school settings partly due to an element of trust but also due to the confidence the environment provides them with.

I was completely blown away by how nature can provide such an interesting environment for children. The school had very few plastic toys but rather children were encouraged to explore what was around them. The school itself was built within the woods with vague pathways meandering between the trees. The materials used were mainly natural with some second hand school equipment such as tables. There were 2 mud kitchens where children were free to explore and make whatever concoction they desired and a tool area in which children were given hammers and potato peelers in order to learb about safety. The play areas were made out of old tyres and wood. A farm was also on site, open to the children all day everyday. It was mentioned how children with learning difficulties struggled to talk with adults yet were able to have full conversations with the animals. I had previously never realised how much of an impact an animal could have on a child’s life but it was evident how much the pigs, goats, chickens and ducks meant to the children.

Although I thought the forest school concept was brilliant, I kept thinking how this shouldn’t just be a concept but rather how ALL schools should be. It was clear that the benefits of this type of education outway the negatives. The children seemed happier, more willing to learn and had better immune systems due to being outside all the time rather than being couped up in a classroom. The general feel of the place was welcoming and children as young as two were trusted to roam around the parameter of the forest school with minimal adult supervision. The element of trust allowed the children to simply be children. To explore. To run. To climb trees. To daydream and if they fancied they could go for a nap in a hammock whenever they wanted. The level of work the practioners at forest schools put in should be highly commended. My only hope is that in the future forest schools will become more of a norm.

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A* in creativity

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Yes, education is important. We have an internal drive to learn, a desire to do well in life and prosper.

At school I can remember having weekly spelling and writing tests, SATs, GCSEs and A levels. I was always average at school, I never did badly yet I was never the top of the class. This didn’t bother me much when I was younger but as soon as grades mattered I felt as though I was trailing behind my academically intelligent peers. I always tried my best, worked hard at school and still to this day spend a large amount of time on my University assignments and revision. Despite this, I’m still not the highest achiever, and I have accepted that I never will be. There is always someone better than you no matter how hard you try, but this shouldn’t stop you. I continue to power through and put my all into everything I do in the hope that one day I will feel that I have succeeded and made myself proud. I blame the emphasis on getting good grades on my lack of ‘proudness’ of myself. Unless I get an A*, 100% or a first, I feel as though I haven’t done well enough.

I’d like to draw your attention to the picture at the top of the page. It shows qualities not measured by most tests. Of course for some children academic tests produce no fear or anxiety, yet for others the daunting prospect of failure always hangs over them. I believe that more or an emphasis needs to be placed on qualities such as empathy, motivation, leadship, enthusiasm and creativity. By focusing on these traits, more children and teenagers will feel as though they are doing well and are succeeding. Not everyone is academically gifted but may be gifted in terms of other traits such as humour. They may simply walk into a room and brighten up someone’s day with their presence. Every child is unique and special and therefore should be respected in terms of qualities rather than grades. If qualities such as those listed in the picture above were as highly respected as academic grades then I feel as though many children and teenagers would be in a much happier place. Over the years the numbers of children being diagnosed with mental health disorders such as anxiety has drastically increased, due to what I believe is from the pressure placed on them to do well academically at school. It’s not all about numbers and letters but rather about developing the skills needed in life to help you succeed.

Remember to never give up on your dreams. Academia is important but grades do not define you. You are amazing.