Picture this: a sunny family walk through the woods, the girls are cheerful and utterly enthralled by the nature around them... occasionally they pause to identify an animal track whilst clutching a collection of interesting sticks, leaves and maybe even a fossil: treasures retained to add to a collection for further investigation. And Mum and Dad? We're positively beaming with pride at how eager our little loves are to learn about their world.
That's how it looks in my mind but the reality of a family stroll in the countryside tends to play out a little differently! Until this day, trips to the woods always feel a bit (a lot) forced on my part. Whilst I'm pointing out a heart-shaped unfurling fern in the hope of catching their attention the girls are more concerned with whether they can watch the telly when they get home. Hubby reluctantly scoops little one up as she pleads to be carried, her grubby boots smear his jeans and coat with mud - it is mud isn't it?! - Whilst big sis brushes against a stinger and stumbles, scraping her hand on a fallen branch. Her cries seem to echo through the trees for miles, and they go on and on and on. Then the rain starts to pour, someone's hungry, someone else needs a poo, patience is wearing thin, why didn't anyone think to bring a plaster?!.... Once again our outing is abandoned and we hurry back to the safety of the visitor centre where we all breathe a sigh of relief because the ice cream van is here.
I hate to think I'm forcing our daughter's pastimes or interests (pushy mum alert!) BUT when we live on the edge of miles of beautiful Chiltern countryside I refuse to ignore the opportunities our natural environment presents: For educational purposes, yes of course, but overall for good old fashioned fun! Messy adventures, explorations, discoveries, so many possibilities for them to become immersed in. Believe me, there's no doubt in my mind that whatever the weather, we should be stumbling over tree roots and splashing in muddy puddles rather than breathing the stuffy, sweaty air of a soft play area whilst the girls hurl themselves at a grubby foam filled object. I'm sure they'd agree, wouldn't they?! Hey, I've got Mother Nature fighting my corner here. We just haven't found our groove yet. Or so I thought, until the emergence of our secret weapon. THE WORKSHEET.
Rewind a few years (well, ok, rewind 15+ years) to my teaching degree and throughout my early days in the classroom. It didn't take me long to learn that the worksheet was an absolute 'no no' - kinesthetic learning was the way forward, and whilst it always required a great deal more planning and preparation, it reaped greater rewards. The worksheet was a lazy resource for educating children and should only be relied upon in emergencies or as a desperate fall back option. So when our eldest returned from school a few weeks back with a 'leaf identification' worksheet my inner primary school teacher shook her head in dismay. But I was outwardly delighted! Woohoo! The perfect opportunity for some purposeful time in the great outdoors, and what's that if it's not kinesthetic learning? The easy option would have been to head to the garden but the woods beckoned: The sun was shining, the cuckoos calling, the bluebells carpeting the woodland floor in all their splendour... So off we went with makeshift clipboard in hand ready to spot leaves, me holding my breath, ready to patiently tackle the first round of complaining. But it never came!
The power of that little leaf identification worksheet has really transformed our outings and carrying a worksheet or a scavenger hunt is now something of the norm for us when we head out. Now the girls clutch their little cardboard clipboards as we pile out of the car into the trees, they seem to suddenly have such purpose and a newfound fascination in their surroundings. The spring in their step is obvious as they hunt under logs and leaves for the next item on their list and we all feel that the ice cream and the bit of 'telly time' has been well and truly earned. That primary teacher inside me is now cowering with shame - how on earth had we overlooked this until now I will never know. The dreaded worksheet has helped the girls to really open their eyes to what's around them, and it has reminded me to open my own eyes to each and every opportunity that might help my job as a parent, especially those that I'd previously rejected or shunned.
So I guess I'd better eat my words and give the soft play another chance. Maybe I need a worksheet to get me through it....
You can find some fab worksheets at: http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk/ under downloads, but none relate to soft play! And of course there are loads on Pinterest.
Thank you again for reading!
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