Sunday, February 14, 2016

The importance of increasing children's outdoor play opportunities

The Risky Joys of Outdoor Play
 I am watching children from my window toboggan down a hill – one that has trees, fences, and a hydro pole all nearby. As I observe the children ‘flying’ down the hill, (all without helmets) and see all of the potential items that many would consider dangerous, I also note that the children are on the hill without adults. To me, this is amazing because often our children are rarely seen outdoors without adults supervising them. Then, I think about risk taking and how important it is as part of children’s outdoor play. I am seeing the children using their bodies to roll, to stop themselves and to guide where they want to go on their magic sleds. I can hear the children laughing and screaming with delight. My regret is that I can’t just go out and snap a video to show you what I am observing. Fortunately, my neighbours, Maya and Justin have allowed me to enjoy their sliding experience.
Allowing children to take risks is a challenge for many adults, especially for those who are risk-adverse or afraid of children getting hurt. Think about how you feel when you view children climbing up a tree or a climber. Think about children climbing up steep hills. Do you embrace these opportunities or hear yourself saying, ‘Be careful”, “don’t fall” or “maybe you should not do this”?  Educators are encouraged to provide children with ample opportunities to be in environments where they can take on physical challenges and be allowed to try play that has some risk attached to it. Risk taking contributes to children learning new skills, combining previous skills with new ideas, and discovering how to integrate new knowledge from the risk taking processes. Despite its benefits, many early childhood educators often express their concerns about the strict provincial or site standards and regulations that they must abide by that they believe reduce the children’s play options. Others, have shared their personal concern about a child being hurt in their care and what the response will be from parents and/or their supervisor. Perhaps by thinking about risk as a healthy phase of development, as educators, we can find strategies to help facilitate those play options for children.
Snowy Hill
Risk taking indoors is more cognitively based, while risk taking outdoors contributes to children testing their physical and social skills and their levels of self-esteem and confidence. When children develop the confidence to take risks during outdoor play, they are much more likely to extend risk taking during their indoor explorations.  Often risk and hazard are viewed as synonymous terms (Lupton & Tulloch, 2002), yet they are very different in meaning and in facilitating children’s outdoor play. In 2002, my late colleague, Barbara Crossley and I defined safe risk taking as “the opportunity for the active child to carry out an action involving risk in an environment that decreases potential for harm” (p.141).  Meanwhile, Greenfield (2003) described a hazard as an act or experience that children don’t predict, while a risk is an experience whereby the child has some uncertainty about being able to achieve the act. Frost et al., (2012), identify that educators and children should be examining environments to determine the level of hazard.
Level I – Limited hazard
Conditions that lead to minor injuries, such as scraped needs.
Level II – Moderate hazard
Conditions that cause serious injury, such as a broken leg.
Level 111 – Extreme hazard
Conditions that cause permanent disability or loss of life.
Sandseter (2007) has identified six categories of risky play that she advocates children have exposure to. They are: Play with great heights such as climbing; 2) Play with high speed, such as running; 3) Play with dangerous tools, such as hammers; 4) Play near dangerous elements, such as cliffs; 5) Rough-and-tumble play with others; and 6) Play where the children can “disappear”/get lost or explore on their own. These categories help educators view the space and experiences extended to children.  The information is also valuable to share with parents as they identify the variety of risky play that children require in their daily lives. Children need to make a choice whether to take the risk or not. Adults and children benefit from collectively examining the play space on a weekly basis to determine if and what hazards are present and how to eliminate them. By role modeling this with children, they begin to distinguish between risk and hazard.
There are short-term and long-term effects for children who do not experience risk-taking. Among the long term effects is that when children do not experience the lessons/learning gained from risk-taking when it is either positive or unsuccessful, they will show poorer risk judgement in the future (Little &Wyver, 2010). The short-term effect is that when children are prohibited or discouraged from taking risks, they will create their own risks and challenges, often being more dangerous with opportunities for injuries than if risks were encouraged (Gill, 2007; Greenfield, 2004). In our book, Playing and learning in early childhood education (2012),  (, Diane Kashin and I identified that when risk taking is limited, children will: create ways to bring challenge to their play; change the quality of their play experiences, resulting in the increase of unsafe risk occurring; reduce their desire to engage in curiosity, creativity and challenge in their play; and not gain the healthy kinesthetic and physical skills that build their confidence, judgment, competence and self-esteem. Often, children want to engage in risk-taking; it is the environment that stops them.
Dietze and Kashin Book
There are many strategies that early childhood educators may use to begin the dialogue with colleagues, parents and children on risk taking.  Here are our top ten ideas.
  1. Parents may require support to encourage children in being able to take risks. Provide parent information about the relationship of risk taking to child development and learning in newsletters and on web-sites.
  2. Invite parents to engage in outdoor risky play times with children and staff. This allows staff to highlight the types of play that are supporting risk taking opportunities.
  3. Educators and children create pedagogical documentation that visually shows children engaged in risk taking play. Include key points on how the play in the photos support risk taking.
  4. Educators examine their philosophy on and feelings about risk taking. As a group, they take inventory of the personal feelings of the team and then collectively develop strategies that will balance positions and roles during outdoor experiences so that children’s risk taking adventures will be encouraged and supported.
  5. Educators engage in observing children’s skills and then create opportunities for them to advance risk taking. Scaffolding experiences support children’s success in their risk taking play.
  6. Educators create challenging environments by providing a range of heavy loose parts such as ropes and rocks, differing terrain, offering materials that allow children to create large structures, and offer play spaces that allow for freedom to explore.
  7. Educators become conscious of their language with children during the outdoor exploration. They reduce the natural instinct to say “No! That is dangerous” and determine if the act is dangerous or if children are being overprotected.
  8. Educators examine procedures and practices at least every six months to ensure that they are addressing hazards and risks appropriately.
  9. Educators engage in professional development that shares current research on children and risk taking.
  10. Educators reflect upon on the following:
  • How do adults help children make the decisions about the risks they wish to take?
  • How do adults support children in helping children learn from their risks, especially with those that are not successful?
  • How do you offer children support for some of their explorations without reducing their enthusiasm for their potential idea?
  • How do you communicate with families about the value of children’s risk-taking and how often do you have such communication?
  • How do you continue to develop your knowledge and comfort for risk-taking?
Ultimately, the outdoor play environments provides children with appropriate levels of risk that encourage them to think, take on new challenges and integrate their experiences with new  learning ideas.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What Kids Are Really Watching on YouTube

Parents may worry about YouTube's age-inappropriate content, but mostly what kids love to watch is fine (if a little weird).
We all know that on YouTube kids can encounter a lot of age-inappropriate stuff, including ads, salty language, and even mature sex and violence. But when you look at what kids are actively seeking out, a lot of it is just kind of, well, weird. When kids are guided by their interests, curiosity, and funny bones, they tend to be rewarded with interesting, creative, humorous results. It's too bad that they're exposed to mature content along the way. But that's where you can step in to help them separate the good stuff from the not-so-great.
So, what's on kids' YouTube lists? "Unboxing" videos (where people open products), "challenges" (such as trying hot peppers), "morning routines" (which show how YouTubers get ready for the day), and silly skits. These and other unusual things -- and the people behind them -- are YouTube phenomena. While kids also like to check out the latest eyebrow-raising music videos by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber, it's the unscripted, unpolished, authentic content that they really love.
This guide may not bring you any closer to understanding the appeal of watching, say, someone open a Kinder Surprise Egg (one of the most popular kinds of videos on YouTube), but it may give you some fodder for conversation. And in a world where kids can be entertained at the touch of a button, that's sometimes the best way to get a taste of their world.
Let's Plays
By far, the most popular gaming videos on YouTube are "Let's Plays" -- basically, live narration by gamers while they're playing games. Gaming videos got so popular, YouTube split them off into their own section called YouTube GamingAge-inappropriate content and language are an issue on all of these:
  • PewDiePie. This Swedish YouTube star does real-time game commentary and other videos in a signature silly style. He has parlayed his fame into an app, a book, and a Web series.
  • Rooster Teeth. In addition to Let's Play videos, this production team creates Web series, live-action shorts, and a news and entertainment podcast. Topics and language are not always age-appropriate.
  • Smosh Games. This is a team of gamers who create mostly game and entertainment-related videos, including Let's Plays, reviews, and skits. Language and content may not be age-appropriate.
  • Markiplier. Entertaining Let's Plays, reviews, skits, highlight reels, and more make Markiplier super popular.
Thousands and thousands of Minecraft videos on Youtube -- including Minecraft Let's Plays,Minecraft tutorials, even Minecraft music videos -- can keep kids entertained for hours (as you've probably noticed). Many Minecraft YouTube videos are geared for older players, and they're filled with strong language, but there are plenty of age-appropriate channels, too. These are some of the most popular:
  • TheDiamondMinecart. The videos' quality across all genres (Let's Play, mod reviews, characters, and so on) has made it one of the most highly subscribed-to and most highly viewed channels on YouTube.
  • PopularMMOs. Although it's known for epic battles and massive explosions, PopularMMOs' host is a friendly, folksy guy named Pat, whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for the MMO game genre plus killer mods draw big audiences.
  • CaptainSparklez. Recently purchased by Disney-owned Maker Studios, CaptainSparklez is beloved as much for his intricate, atmospheric, and complex worlds as for his parody videos.
  • StampyLonghead. A British cartoon cat (voiced by Joseph Garrett from Portsmouth, England) hosts the lively videos on this lighthearted channel.
Turns out, kids love watching people open stuff -- including toys, gadgets, and the Italian treat called Kinder Surprise Eggs. Unboxing has become so popular that a whole cottage industry of unboxing "fails" and spoofs (such as Weird Al unboxing his Grammy Award) has emerged. The main issue with these videos is that it's unclear whether companies pay YouTubers to unbox their products (some do, some don't). 
  • FunToyzcollector. Kid-friendly videos of a person (you never see a face, just a well-manicured hand) opening and playing with Play-Doh, Disney Princess dolls, Polly Pockets, Peppa Pig, and lots more have made this channel one of the most popular and lucrative on YouTube.
  • EvanTube HD. Ten-year-old Evan's unboxing videos include Legos, Kinder Eggs, and lots of other toys. He also has other channels in which his family appears.
  • Surprise Eggs Unboxing Toys. In addition to unboxing videos of Kinder Eggs, this channel creates Play-Doh Claymations, stop-motion videos, and clips of bath balls dissolving in water. (You read that correctly.)
  • Lamarr Wilson. A former educator and technology consultant, Wilson uses his engaging personality to entertain families with taste tests, skits, and awkward questions. He's most famous for his unboxing videos of totally random stuff such as gummy worms, amiibos, and Loot Crates (mail-order collections of toys and games).
YouTube challenges have become a genre unto themselves. Some of them are risky, such as the duct-tape challenge and the cinnamon challenge. These YouTubers regularly film themselves taking some of the less-risky challenges (such as eating food while blindfolded).
  • Rosanna Pansino. This bubbly baker's YouTube show Nerdy Nummies (think: pizza cake) is so popular, Pansino got a cookbook deal out of it. She often attempts cooking-related challenges such as using someone else's arms to decorate a cake.
  • SevenSuperGirls. Billing themselves as the largest all-girl collaboration on YouTube, the ladies of SevenSuperGirls are actually unrelated YouTubers who share a channel and trade off posting. They love taking challenges, such as the Tin Can Challenge where they sample food from unmarked cans.  
  • Shane Dawson. This YouTube veteran is famous for his colorful characters, outrageous songs, edgy videos, and funny first-person vlogs. He frequently appears on others' YouTube channels to take challenges (such as the one on Trying Mexican Candy with Miranda Sings, another popular YouTuber). Language and content can be an issue.
  • Joey Graceffa. A budding musician, actor, filmmaker, and gamer, Graceffa is also an active vlogger who loves taking challenges, including Tasting Weird Goldfish Flavors. Language and content can be an issue.
Makeup and Fashion
The makeup and fashion category is bursting with talented, versatile hosts who make skits, explain their morning routines, and share advice. The downside with this category is that the videos can present impossibly idealized images of what a young girls' life should look like (complete with impeccably lighted bedrooms and perfectly matched bedding), and many of the videos push products (some of which are given to the vlogger for promotion). On the plus side, lots of these videos also offer DIY and crafting ideas and spoofs of their own content.
  • My Life as Eva. This California college student has become a full-fledged lifestyle guru, offering tips on everything from packing for a trip to rocking a fur jacket. She also models for Kohl's.
  • Niki and Gabi. Beautiful, smart, savvy identical twins Niki and Gabi make cool style seem effortless with their polished videos that include ideas for an easy "morning routine," DIY Halloween costumes, and photo ideas.
  • Rclbeauty101. Rachel Claire Levin is the 20-something brunette behind this channel that features insider beauty tips, lifestyle advice, funny skits, and more.
  • CutiePieMarzia. Kids know Italian beauty Marzia Bisognin as PewDiePie's gamer girlfriend, but she's a vlogger in her own right, specializing in makeup, "haul" videos (where she shows viewers what she's bought), cooking, and more.
  • Bethany Mota. A young YouTube pioneer, Mota vlogs on fashion, beauty, shopping, and DIY tips. She achieved mainstream fame and fortune by appearing on Dancing with the Stars and by creating a line of clothes for Aeropostale.
Funny Stuff
What passes for funny on YouTube may not be your cup of tea, but somehow the folks below have hit upon formulas that draw millions of viewers. Language and content can be an issue on many of these channels.
  • NigaHiga. Higa loves creating parodies of movies, ads, and songs, and he has a strong bent for personal confession and articulate tirades on topical subjects.
  • Tobuscus. Actor, musician, gamer, and comedian Tobuscus (Toby Joe Turner) posts a hodgepodge of entertaining videos ranging from stop-motion video to original songs to Let's Plays.
  • Smosh. These 20-somethings perform silly skits, funny songs, and pranks. The comedy isn't necessarily highbrow (and they bleep swear words), but it's mostly harmless.
  • Good Mythical Morning. With their friendly banter, silly skits, and amusing challenges, the two male hosts of this show (Rhett and Link) entertain without being edgy.
  • The Fine Brothers. Brothers Benny and Rafi started with "React" videos (showing kids, teens, senior citizens, and other groups watching and commenting on YouTube videos). These videos are great tools for teaching kids to be critical of media. Many of the Web series and other videos produced by the Fine Brothers -- while funny and creative -- are not necessarily age-appropriate.