Outdoor Play for Kids

Preschool Land Art Class in the Arboretum with Artist Karah Pino

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend an hour making Land Art with preschoolers at the Fiddleheads Forest School in the Arboretum with my son’s outdoor class.

The excitement of their motivation to make these works and their careful placement of objects was so inspiring!

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Battling A Sense Of Lost Time – the importance of being in nature

Battling A Sense Of Lost Time

by MARCELO GLEISER

December 11, 2013 2:43 PM

The first word that comes to mind when I think about modern life is “overload.” The second is “dispersion.”

We are the targets of an ongoing war for our attention: the Web, new technologies, food, clothing, music. We feel the constant need to be connected; TV and radio are just not enough. We need to link to social media outlets, know what’s going on or else be out; each instant of time is taken by a screen, small or large; information pours down in torrents.

If we forget our cell phone at home, we feel like a body part is missing; we are the phones, the phones are us. We are addicted to it, as we can see when a plane lands after a 45-minute flight and hundreds of passengers turn on their phones as if their lives depended on information that just came out. We are addicted to linkage and I am guilty as charged.

We no longer allow time for contemplation.

People feel time is passing faster because we have less and less control over it. To do nothing feels like a huge waste of time. Any open window of time must be filled with tweets, Facebook updates, email, YouTube videos, podcasts. If no one is talking about us, let’s make sure that they do.

One of the victims of this “race to linkage” is our connection to nature. We can call it the new missing link.

We hardly look up to the sky or the at the life around us. To most people nature is a concept, something that exists out there, that we see in YouTube videos or magazines, on BBC and Animal Planet specials. To recover a sense of control over time we need to return to nature; we need to create space to observe other forms of life; we need to reconnect with the night sky, far from the city lights. At least this is what I do to slow down.

To me, entering a trail for a hike or run is like entering a temple. And as with any temple, I go in search of a connection, trying to restore a sense of identity as I surround myself with green and blue.


You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: 

Fiddleheads Forest School, A Parent’s Perspective by Karah Pino

“Wanna Touch the Sap with Me?”

Posted to the UW Botanic Gardens Blog November 18th, 2013 by Sarah Heller, Community Programs Coordinator & Fiddleheads Forest School Director

Wanna touch the sap with me?

Wanna touch the sap with me?

“Wanna touch the sap with me?” This is the question posed by my 3-year-old every Tuesday and Thursday morning when he gets to Fiddleheads Forest School in the Washington Park Arboretum. It is his first stop before each class and he excitedly invites me or anyone else who is around to join him. The sap he is investigating comes from an extraordinary source, just outside of Forest Grove, the preschool center. A tall ponderosa pine tree whose bark has bubbled and buckled from some kind of fungus beneath the surface creates constant streams of sap pouring down in a slow-moving waterfall from 20 feet up its trunk. The sap is moving so slowly we have found spider webs build in the crevices of the bark with a lone drip suspended in the silk.

I encourage Alvin to dust his hands in dirt before touching the sap to make it easier to remove later, but he doesn’t always remember. That’s ok with me, though, because the fragrant scent of pine sap reminds me of my own childhood in New Mexico, playing in the pine trees and junipers. It also reminds me of why I started looking for an outdoor preschool two years ago to give my son the opportunities I had to explore nature free from the ever-present boundaries and dangers of the urban environment we are surrounded by in so much of Seattle.

IMG_7995When I discovered that Fiddleheads was expanding to a full year preschool located in the middle of the Arboretum, I felt as if the universe had bent around to fulfill this dream! I knew it was perfect when I discovered that forest grove is just across from the ancient Sequoia grove I loved to visit as an undergrad at the University of Washington when I lived near the Arboretum. The colors of autumn have been incredible to view each week driving to the school and the wide variety of leaves, berries, nuts and seed pods seems unending. After drop off or before pick up, I make some time for myself to enjoy the smells, sounds, sights and sightings alongside my child, so we can share the magic of the of the forest together. (I’m sure I saw a coyote tail bouncing in the brush one day!)

Occasionally, I will hear the sounds of little voices adventuring along as I am on my own walk and feel their excitement and wonder well up inside of me. I love to watch from afar as they gather sticks to build a “fire” or leaves to pile up and roll in and I inwardly thank all the forces, voices and advocates who came together to create this fantastic program.

Although my favorite sequoia grove is protected by a fence now to protect the fragile roots, their giant trunks and strong presence are a perfect example of why the Arboretum is such a treasure for Seattlites of all ages and I hope there will be many more classes of preschoolers and homeschoolers and every other age of schoolers out in appreciation all year round in this wonderous place!

(Karah Pino, MAcOM is the delighted parent of a Fiddlehead’s Forest student, the social media coordinator for the Women of Wisdom Foundation and she manages the blog Unwind your Mind and Get Creative!

Walk Through Green Space Could Help Put Brain In State Of Meditation, Study Finds

Entering a more ‘zen’ mindset could be as easy as taking a walk in the park, according to a small new study.

New research from scientists at Heriot-Watt University in the U.K. conducted mobile brain electrical activity testing on volunteers to find that the brain enters a meditative state when going through green spaces.

The findings have “implications for promoting urban green space as a mood-enhancing environment for walking or for other forms of physical or reflective activity,” they wrote in the study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study included 12 healthy adults who walked through three kinds of environments in Edinburgh while being hooked up to mobile electroencephalography devices (which tracked their emotions). They took a 25-minute walk through a city shopping street, through a green space, and on a street in a busy business area. The mobile electroencephalography tracked emotions including frustration, meditation, short-term and long-term excitement, and engagement.

Researchers found that feelings of meditation were the highest when the study participants were going through the green space, as well as less frustration, long-term excitement and engagement.

The New York Times reported that the findings don’t mean the green space triggered spacing out — rather, the engagement required to walk through a green space is more “effortless,” study researcher Jenny Roe told the publication.

“It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection,” Roe told the Times.

And taking a walk in the park or a hike outdoors is good for our brains in more ways than one — the University of Washington reports that spending time in nature helps to conquer mental fatigue and even boost cognitive functioning.

For more benefits of being outdoors, click through the slideshow:

via Walk Through Green Space Could Help Put Brain In State Of Meditation, Study Finds.

 

What is the Outdoor Classroom by Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson’s new book, Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms, clarifies the vision of the outdoor classroom, and explains simply and clearly how it addresses the needs of today’s children. He kindly agreed to share some extracts with Collage readers. I hope these selections encourage you to get and read this excellent book.

The Outdoor Classroom: Fulfilling a Vision for Childhood

The Outdoor Classroom’s vision is simple: children benefit from spending more time outdoors, especially in natural places. Its goal is equally simple: to increase the quantity, quality, and benefit of outdoor experience for children. Here is an overview of the key features of the Outdoor Classroom:
• The Outdoors is a Primary Environment for Children The outdoors is an important learning
environment. Learning takes place outdoors that doesn’t occur indoors. It is important, then, that outdoor environments be as richly and thoughtfully equipped as indoor ones. Children should be able to move seamlessly between indoors and outdoors; their play and learning should be as easy in one place as the other. Adults should not treat one location as more educational than the other.

• Freedom for Children to Play on Their Own A fundamental principle of the Outdoor Classroom is
children’s right to initiate their own activities. Children need to explore, imagine, try new things, and learn alone or with friends. Ultimately, what any of us learns most deeply is what we have explored “by ourselves.”

• Learning Takes Time Too many adults who work with children try to hurry them. Pressuring
children to hurry up inhibits rather than accelerates learning. Like almost everyone else, children learn best when they are relaxed and have open-ended time in which to create their own activities. They need time to refine and anchor new skills. The Outdoor Classroom encourages children to spend as much time as they want outdoors. The time children have is often directly related to the freedom they have.

• Children Need Physical Activity Physical activity is necessary for children’s development and health.
Open space offers children opportunities for big movement, vigorous social play, and explorations big and small. Their activities help them refine motor skills and teach them how the world works.

• A Full Range of Activities The Outdoor Classroom believes, “Everything you can do indoors, you can
do outdoors, and even more!” Part of the Outdoor Classroom’s vision is that indoor and outdoor spaces constitute a single learning environment.

• Comprehensive, Holistic, Emergent Curriculum Curriculum is one of the trickiest elements in ECE.
How do we support children’s development instead of imposing our own adult agendas on them? In the Outdoor Classroom, we view curriculum as more than the adult-designed course of study or activities. Instead, it is everything that happens during a child’s day, everything that a child comes in contact with. Adults observe and respond to children’s needs and interests, taking this expanded understanding of the curriculum into account.

• Engaged Children and Engaged Teachers Engagement is key to learning. Real learning occurs only
when children become engaged with the environment and the people in it, usually through activities that they themselves initiate. Paradoxically, in ECE settings, this means that truly engaged teachers are often in the background, observing and responding rather than leading. Engaged teachers support children who are initiating their own learning.

• Developmentally Appropriate Activities The term “developmentally appropriate” in the Outdoor
Classroom means that activities always lie within children’s capacity to handle them and are never forced on children. Developmentally appropriate practices are fundamental to effective learning and to the well-being of children.

Moving Beyond This Year’s Hot Topic

To the uninformed eye, the Outdoor Classroom may look like nothing more than children playing outside, as children always have. But play in the Outdoor Classroom means something much deeper. And that something is not just the next hot topic, the next new thing. Rather, it is a return to a very old thing: child-centered learning. The Outdoor Classroom shifts ECE from a primarily indoor, teacher-initiated model to one that embraces outdoor, child-initiated play as critical to children’s well-being. By moving children and their activities outdoors, the character and type of what they do are transformed. Children regain control over their activities and become responsible for their own learning and growth, supported by attentive adults who ensure their safety and stimulation. Teachers relinquish control to become observers and supporters.

The Silent Emergency

The changes we have wrought in childhood in order to protect children from danger constitute a silent emergency. I call it an emergency because of the rapidly escalating negative effects it is having on children and society at large. I call it silent because the combined impact of several unintended consequences make it so damaging, yet the collective impact of these consequences is rarely discussed or addressed. I believe that the Outdoor Classroom can help early childhood educators address this emergency.

These are the seven most critical issues facing children today that we will discuss here:
1. Lack of exercise
2. Preoccupation with electronic media
3. Perception of outdoors as an unsafe place to play
4. Isolation from and fear of nature
5. Lack of engagement in and connection to the world, including nature
6. Reductive approaches to ECE
7. Epidemic use of behavior-modifying drugs on young children

The Outdoor Classroom helps to restore the traditional benefits of childhood while addressing these challenges:
1. Getting children outside and more active
2. Involving children in hands-on, loose-parts outdoor play
3. Creating opportunities to learn how to handle outdoor risks safely
4. Connecting children to nature in ways that encourage them to connect more deeply
5. Teaching children about cause and effect through outdoor and interpersonal activities
6. Providing children with a wide range of activities that support their holistic development

From Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing
Child-Centered Learning Environments by
Eric M. Nelson. © 2012 by Eric M. Nelson. Reprinted with permission of
Redleaf Press, St. Paul, MN;

www.redleafpress.org.


About the Author

Eric Nelson


Eric Nelson
co-founded the Child Educational Center, Caltech/JPL Community near Pasadena, CA, in 1979. As the Director of Consulting and Educational Services, he manages the Outdoor Classroom Project. An adjunct professor since 1977, Eric developed a course on outdoor classrooms, which evolved into a series of outdoor classroom specialist trainings. He presents on a broad range of topics related to outdoor classrooms and consults on the design of play yards. Eric’s understanding of the value of the outdoors is grounded in a lifetime of hiking his beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains in California since he was a young child.


What is the Outdoor Classroom by Eric Nelson.

 

Natural Play in the Preschool Yard by Mary Rivkin

Imagine a circle of 15″ high logs, tops flattened, spaced just so a four-year-old can leap from one to the next, and if she tumbles, the ground is close. Sometimes the new walkers lay claim to the circle because the logs are just right for cruising. Another time, the threes cluster in the circle to listen to the book their teacher is reading. Later, the space becomes a home where cooking, dishwashing, and important discussions and events occur.

Fortunately the play yard has an abundance of shrubs and trees to provide leaves, twigs, nuts, blossoms, and berries for cooking. This summer, wonderfully enough, the blueberry bushes had berries one could really eat (and wonder why after a few weeks the bushes have no more)! This fall the big oak tree provided an abundance of acorns, perfect for stirring into soup, mixing into salads and making hats for fingers. In the spring, someone will find a tiny new tree poking out of the leaf litter—what a surprise! That is what was inside the hard little acorn? There were so many acorns, what happened to all the rest? Did something eat them?

The squirrels that frequent the play yard ran away with some acorns. Could they have taken so many and where did they put them? Shall we spread out a blanket near the oak tree so we can lie down and look up to see if squirrels are there? Look how tall this tree is. (In the spring the marvel of the tiny acorn sprout and the huge tree will become clear.) Look how we can see all the way through to the sky today—almost no leaves are left. Big clouds today too. Anyone see that hole up there in the trunk? Think someone lives there?

Being under the tall tree could make a person think about being tall. How about running to the top of the hill and looking around; how about climbing on the big rocks and balancing up there? The rocks feel rough and cold but everyone knows where the places for feet and hands are—up to the top! And leap down, an arms-flying superhero! Hey, those kids on the big old logs over there, they might be having trouble in the rough waves. To the rescue! Now let’s make this a bus; I’m the driver, we’re going to New York!

Simple natural items with all their variability offer children an environment for both imaginative play and learning basic concepts about the biological and physical world. Life cycles, plant growth and development, plant parts, various species noticed and memorized because they are useful for play, seasons, animal habitats and habits—all these concepts and more are available in a play yard like the one described here. The physical world has rocks that the body observes, has hills that the body feels both going up and coming down, and offers different perspectives in different places. Lying on your back on the ground lets one take the measure of a tree, the color of the sky, the movement of the wind seen in the clouds and treetops. It facilitates inquiry such as: how high is the sky? and why can’t we see the stars? Lying on the ground lets a child feel how solid it is too, and how safe.

Unpaved, uncovered ground is especially interesting to children. A sand pit or area, and a dirt digging hole are only difficult for parents and teachers. Froebel, the “father of kindergarten,” had to persuade parents that dirt digging was valuable to children. One of his followers wrote that children’s instinct to dig was as strong as their instinct to move. Children are like the ancient Greek strongman Antaeus who was strong only when he was touching the ground. “The children renew their strength at the touch of Mother Earth, and yet we arbitrarily hold them back from this storehouse of power.”* Isn’t it odd with today’s automatic washers and driers and no shortage of stain removers and detergents, that parents continue to resist ground play?

Since it is the top layer of the Earth that supports all life, it is important for children to experience it first hand—it provides basic knowledge, biological and physical.

Another natural plaything is sticks, which are also resisted by some teachers and parents. Sticks are linked with our evolution—as a species we have used them as tools to dig roots, plant seeds, thresh grains, fend off enemies, fuel fires, catch fish, build shelters, and for countless other uses. Children are drawn to gather and use sticks. Sticks are part of their natural inheritance. Rules for use are needed of course, just as for scissors and everything else.

The splendid aspect of natural play things is their availability. Sticks fall off trees with regularity. Digging holes are always possible even if some patch of asphalt needs to be removed. Sand is almost as easy to provide—with a big enough yard not even a box is needed. Logs and stumps can come from storm-downed trees; often a parent or a groundskeeper with a chain saw can shape them. Big climbing rocks or boulders can be harder or more expensive to find. Be a scavenger—look at construction sites and become a beggar for children! Plants—try grants for rain gardens. Lots of companies want to give children’s yards more nature components. After all, children who grow up loving plants become grownups who like plants.

Children who grow up playing in nature with its treasures will become better stewards of the earth. Nature play is good for children. Perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson said it best more than a century ago:

Happy hearts and happy faces,
Happy play in grassy places–
That was how in ancient ages,
Children grew to kings and sages.**

*Nora Archbold Smith (1896) The Republic of Play. Accessed October 7, 2012 at http://www.archive.org/stream/froebelsoccupationswiggrich_djvu.txtt.

** Robert Louis Stevenson (1885/1952). A Child’s Garden of Verses. Harmondworth, Middlesex, England: Puffin Edition, Penguin Books.


Natural Play in the Preschool Yard by Mary Rivkin.

 

Open the Door and Just Go Out… by Johanna Booth-Miner

As the first snow was falling and I was walking mid-day, snowflakes were sticking to my eyelashes. This made me hum “a few of my favorite things” from The Sound of Music. Being outdoors and connecting children to nature daily is definitely one of my favorite things. Having a certified outdoor classroom allows teaching to occur naturally and helps each teacher find their favorite things to share and enrich children’s lives.

At Live & Learn Early Learning Center we believe that curriculum is a living, changing medium of learning that grows and transforms with the seasons, children’s wonder, nature cycles and the community’s needs. We believe that it is vital to children’s learning to reflect the world that is immediately around them. This medium is a negotiated curriculum taking the children’s wonders and mixing them with the teacher’s passion. We take the results of that investigation and implement them in a natural foundation with open ended activities and play. Our nature-based play curriculum and environment expose children daily to the natural world right outside the back door. Children and teachers can delight in hands-on exploration and investigations as a vehicle for learning.

At Live & Learn, for all children ages 6 weeks to 60 years, we believe in the fundamental importance of children’s ongoing experience in nature as the foundation for creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Our belief that play is learning creates an atmosphere that ultimately works towards creating a cohesive community. We have taken to heart the writings of Richard Louv‘s Last Child in the Woods, and made “nature deficit disorder” extinct at Live & Learn. Children express interests and ideas, explore nature and curriculum materials in playful ways. They can reflect on their experiences and form conclusions. Through this process, children develop confidence and independence with encouragement from families, teachers and community members.

Our certified outdoor classroom allows children and teachers to explore and dive into the world around them. Sometimes this involves bringing the outdoors in and then the indoors out. We incorporate both indoor and outdoor classrooms alike for all the areas of development to be reached. They create worm bins, fairy houses, stone walls and animal habitats. Outdoors, children observe plants, animals, trees, the weather and the hundreds of other things that capture their interests. Teachers set the scene daily to encourage the children’s minds. We add “loose parts” to areas of the outdoor classroom that may include tree blocks, pumpkins, gourds, flowers, laminated books, and sticks. Teachers observe, participate in, and document children’s experiences in order to make thoughtful decisions about how to continue to develop and enhance curriculum.

Learning in an outdoor classroom supports all aspects of an integrated curriculum. It is child-centered and supports an inquiry-based learning model. It naturally encourages wonder. Children can use all of their senses as they observe their environment. The natural materials allow children to sort, classify, count, compare, and examine. The role of the teachers is to guide children to integrate these experiences into cognitive concepts. Teachers should indicate honest interest through their tone of voice and facial expression. Sincerity conveys to children that their responses are important. When you allow time for children to think and respond, you show respect for both the children and their ideas.

In nature we have the opportunity to focus on things in the here and now. Questions that focus on observable events in the children’s immediate environment are more likely to elicit a response than questions about objects or events remote in time or distant from the children. Young children focus on the present rather than the past. They need concrete cues to help them recall the past. Model scientific curiosity by asking questions of yourself and the children; for example, I wonder what ants eat? What do you think they eat? Ideally, questions enhance the child’s experience, not detract from it.

Outdoor classrooms lend themselves to being a conduit of available risk-taking for children.

I strongly believe that children gain and grow through risk-taking and exploration in the natural world. We have set up the outdoor classrooms to include ways to developmentally risk-take appropriately. There are real tools to dig with in the digging area and large sticks and planks to move and build with in the natural building area. We have set up ropes to balance and climb on, as well as rope swings. Our climbing areas are created from large branches from trees. Our preschoolers and kindergarteners can explore a stream by walking in it and exploring with sticks. Our environment is a 25-acre farm with animals that lends itself to daily exploration.

The essential element to all of this requires that we also have the families on board with our approach to risk-taking. Part of our family orientation includes visiting and playing in the outdoor classrooms. The families are the clients and must be comfortable with their children coming home dirty, sometimes with a skinned knee or scrape, but full of new discoveries and adventures. As a learning community we engage in conversations about thoughts and fears that we all own as adults and how we can give children new and acceptable risk-taking opportunities to build fundamental skills.

There are two key ingredients to risk-taking with children; one is the adults and the other is time. We as the adults in early childhood education must model with enthusiasm, both the permission and support, to risk-take. We must slow down to allow time to dream, imagine, touch, feel, and construct. Children, through acceptable risk, build upon their own ideas, feel empowered physically and emotionally and develop a sense of place or belonging in the environment. I do not want to be responsible for raising a generation of children who have been bubble wrapped. What will happen when there is not caution tape or six warnings before the child reaches the edge? Healthy risk-taking prepares us to be observant and make good decisions.

Taking to heart Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder, the teachers of Live & Learn journey daily with their children to enjoy and explore the pleasures of walking in a puddle or stream, digging for salamanders, and learning to appreciate what nature has to teach, and why all of this matters. The enjoyment of childhood and taking time to be a kid is embodied here.


About the Author

Johanna Booth-Miner


Johanna Booth-Miner
is the owner and director of Live & Learn Early Learning Center in Lee, NH. For 39 years she has worked to meet the needs of family and community and to develop an educational partnership among family, community, and the Live & Learn Early Learning Center to maximize the potential of each child. She has been adjunct faculty in the early childhood program at the New Hampshire Technical College in Stratham, teaching courses on child, family and community and childcare center administration. Johanna has always been active in organizations for early childhood professionals, serving 13 years as president of the Alliance for Better Childcare, and now is the past-president of the New Hampshire Association for the Education of Young Children, (NHAEYC).

Because she believes that the increased training of early childhood providers will lead to better quality care for all children, Johanna travels all over the nation giving workshops on exploring nature, teambuilding, child, family and community; social and emotional development of children, diversity in the classroom and communication. Johanna is an NH Credentialed faculty trainer, mentor and has a BS in early childhood education. Her areas of professional interest and expertise include teacher education, early care and education, social and emotional development, and curriculum.

Open the Door and Just Go Out… by Johanna Booth-Miner.

 

Natural Learning Initiative Publications and Research

Creating environments for healthy human development and
a healthy biosphere for generations to come.

The purpose of the Natural Learning Initiative is to promote the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of all children, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information.

 Publications:

Behavior Mapping: A Method for Linking Preschool Physical Activity and Outdoor Design

The preschool that children attend has been shown to be a significant but variable predictor of physical activity of 3- to 5-yr-olds, whereas the time outdoors has been found to be a strong correlate of physical activity.

read more >>

Download: Cosco_Moore_Islam_BehaviorMapping.pdf

 

Sensory Integration and Contact with Nature: Designing Outdoor Inclusive Environments

In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 34, No. 2

Healthy Planet, Healthy Children: Designing Nature into the Daily Spaces of Childhood

In Biophilic design: the theory, science, and practice of bringing buildings to life

Developing evidence-based design: Environmental interventions for healthy development of young children in the outdoors

In Open Space People Space

What makes a park inclusive and universally designed? A multi-method approach

In Open Space People Space

Greening Montessori School Grounds by Design

In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 32, No. 1

Reasons to Smile at Teardrop

In Landscape Architecture Magazine

Playgrounds: A 150-Year-Old Model

In Safe and Healthy School Environments

The Park Less Traveled: 7 Seattle Parks to Discover This Summer – ParentMap

The Park Less Traveled: 7 Seattle Parks to Discover This Summer – ParentMap.

Seattle is blessed with an incredible bounty of city parks, ranging from near wilderness to little pocket parks. But even with such a fantastic selection, it’s easy to fall into a rut and go to the same old places.

Does Parental Park Malaise set in while watching your kids slide down the salmon over and over again at Carkeek Park or negotiating toddler access rights to the canoe at Green Lake?

I recently embarked on a new-park-a-day adventure with my 4-year-old daughter, which, although costly in terms of fuel, made me even happier to live in Seattle.

This summer, you too can re-energize your park mojo by trying some of Seattle’s lesser-known, wonderful parks. Here are seven favorite finds.

Testimonial for Forest Garden style teaching aka Free Range Children

June 18, 2012 8:53 AM

Why my child will be your child’s boss

By

Suzanne Lucas

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Saws. The kind you buy at the hardware store to cut wood. That’s what the play-group teacher dumped on the ground for 3- and 4-year-old kids to play with. Knowing that doing this, in the U.S., would result in the teacher being, at minimum, fired and most likely charged with child endangerment, I had visions of emergency room trips and severed limbs dancing through my mind.

But this happened not in the U.S. but in Switzerland, where they believe children are capable of handling saws at age 3 and where kindergarten teachers counsel parents to let their 4- and 5-year-olds walk to school alone. “Children have pride when they can walk by themselves,” the head of the Münchenstein, Switzerland, Kindergartens said last week at a parents meeting, reminding those in attendance that after the first few weeks of school children should be walking with friends, not mom.

So looking down at the saws, I tried to hide my American-bred fear and casually asked the teacher about her procedures in case of emergencies. She rattled them off to me in perfect English (that’s another thing the Swiss believe — that anyone is capable of learning multiple languages), but added, “I’ve been a forest play-group teacher for 10 years, and I’ve never had to call a parent because of injury.”

What’s a “forest” teacher? (No, that ‘s not a typo or pre-school name.) That alludes to a tradition here that we signed our 3-year-old up for. Every Friday, whether rain, shine, snow, or heat, he goes into the forest for four hours with 10 other children. In addition to playing with saws and files, they roast their own hot dogs over an open fire. If a child drops a hot dog, the teacher picks it up, brushes the dirt off, and hands it back.

The school year ends next week, and so far the only injury has been one two millimeter long cut received from a pocket knife. The teacher slapped a cartoon band-aid on it and all was well. No injury form to fill out. No trip to the doctor for an extra tetanus booster. No panic. In fact, she didn’t even think it necessary to mention the incident to me. Which is wasn’t.

Does this mean that Swiss children are capable of handling saws and crossing roads at the same age that American parents are still cutting their children’s food and getting arrested for letting them go to the park?

Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids tracks the stories of how we’re failing to prepare our children for leadership. Many parents in U.S. seem to be convinced that children are incapable of making any of their own decisions or even functioning by themselves at the playground. While a high school principal recently threatened to suspend a group of seniors for the dangerous act of riding their bikes to school, and a group of parents protested that their misbehaving 17-18 year-olds were sent home alone on a train, I looked around me and saw 4-year-olds walking to school by themselves and teenagers also traveling alone across Europe, handling transactions with different currency and in different languages.

The leadership at many American companies were raised in a similar way to the Swiss children in my neighborhood. Boys had pocket knives. Everyone rode bikes to school. Kids started babysitting other children at 11- or 12-years-old. Now? We coddle and protect and argue with teachers when our little darlings receive anything worse than an A on a paper.

The result? Well, the preliminary results from this method of parenting are hitting the workforce now. They are poor communicators who insist on using text-speak. Their mothers are calling employers. They believe they should be given rewards and promotions for the act of showing up to work on time.

If this trend in the U.S. continues, American children will become more crippled in their ability to make their own decisions (mom is always around), manage risk (at what age do you become magically able to use a saw?) or overcome a setback (you learn nothing when mom and dad sue the school district to get your grade changed).

By contrast, my son learns about risk management every week. He’ll be in a school system that has no qualms about holding a child back if he doesn’t understand the material. And “helicopter” parenting? Not tolerated by the schools or the other mothers at the playground.

So, while he’s 4 and generally covered in dirt, I suspect he’ll be more prepared for leadership when we move back to the U.S. than will children who have no freedom and responsibility and face no consequences.

That is, if he doesn’t cut off his own hand with the saw.

via Why my child will be your child’s boss – CBS News.