More anxiety. Less ability to focus. Under-developed fine motor strength. Poor core stability and balance. More and more children are coming to school showing one or more of these issues.
Slime. Mermaid fabric. Microbead pillows with Lycra coverings. Kinetic sand. Squishy toys. Inflatable bounce playgrounds and trampoline party zones.
You might be surprised to learn that these are two sides of the same coin.
All these toys and experiences are like over-the-counter medications to address a serious and often ignored crisis. On the whole, our children today are starved for sensory experiences. Their worlds are missing the experiences of childhood that earlier generations took for granted: climbing, swinging, sliding, spinning, hanging upside down. Walking barefoot, balancing on a wall or railroad tie. Digging in sand and dirt, mixing in water, squishing mud, carrying sticks and rocks and incorporating them in play.
The need for creative, open ended outdoor play often cannot be accommodated in an era of overworked parents who over schedule their kids in activities to keep them safe. Schools remove or reduce the arts, recess time, and child-directed play to focus on academics. The end result: our children are being deprived of the most basic building blocks of their developing years. This deficiency affects social and emotional growth, negatively impacts the development of learning behaviors which assist in cognitive growth, and contributes to lower self esteem, and greater anxiety.
You can get more background on this topic here:
The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post
As an early childhood educator and an arts education advocate, I have long wanted to write about this topic, but I have hesitated because it didn’t fall within my local, community-focused sphere.
But now I have found my local connection. These folks, possibly known to you as the Columbia Families in Nature people, are raising money to create a Community Ecology Center in Howard County.
CEI is under contract to purchase a six acre organic farm in Columbia! We are protecting this unique property from being developed and will be creating a Community Ecology Center where people can learn through direct experiences about how they can have healthier, more sustainable lifestyles!
We are 25% of the way towards unlocking our $30,000 matching gift! If each family that has attended a Columbia Families in Nature event contributes $30 we will be 75% of the way there! You can also sign up for a peer-to-peer fundraising page via the link below to be able to significantly grow your ability to help make this vision into a reality for our community!
Now, the description of this project talks about nature and the environment, healthy living and learning about sustainability. I’m here to tell you that this project, plus the other initiates of this organization (Columbia Families in Nature, and Roots and Wings Learning Community) are jam packed with sensory experiences that kids (and their grownups) crave.
Into our compartmentalized, too-passive, electronic-dependent lives comes an invitation to come outside, to touch things, to get messy, to join together with others to make something meaningful happen. I truly think this could be an amazing resource for our community and I invite you to contribute.
I can’t promise you will never have to buy another Squishmallow or spend raucous afternoons in the bouncy castle zone. But adding some digging in the dirt and splashing along the edge of a stream just might be the best medicine for what ails us.