In need of a kick?
I might as well admit it straight away: I’m a person who needs an occasional kick up the backside, in order for things to get done. I’m pretty good at coming up with ideas, and not too bad at planning and making preparations either, but for some reason I often don’t make that final step of actually doing what I had planned.
To become better at this is something I’m working on (a project which may well follow me for the rest of my life), and I’m happy to accept help. At the moment, one such helping “boot up my proverbial” is the National Trust initiative 50 things to do before you’re 11¾. Admittedly, I’m a few years past that age now myself, but Penguin still has a good 15 months or so to go…
The 50 things to do is a great list of activities, intended to get kids outside and doing a lot of those things we may associate with the concept of a good childhood, but perhaps are at risk of missing out on. We may keep putting them off, never really get around to doing them, or just be assuming that they will come about naturally at some point. And then oops… where did those years go?
But with a visually stimulating list for ticking things off, an inspiring scrap book with sticker rewards, and a set time limit of when these things should be done, I can see a dramatically increased probability of these experiences actually happening. I’m not usually one for sticker charts etc, but in this case I’m hooked. If you wish to join in, the full 50 things list plus plenty of inspiration is available here, and you don’t need to have access to any National Trust sites to do these things. So go ahead!
It’s fairly obvious that the 50 activities on the list can all be good fun, and that many of them offer great opportunities for learning. I guess that’s good enough in itself, but to me, the most important dimension is the many multisensory experiences that come with doing these activities.
There are plenty of studies on how animals benefit from living in an “enriched environment”, where their senses are stimulated in a multitude of ways. This environmental enrichment stimulates brain development and increases the ability to learn, solve problems etc. Experiments with rodents have shown that (induced) symptoms of disorders of the brain/CNS can decrease by placing the animals in an enriched environment. If you wish to read a little bit more about this, the Wikipedia page on Environmental Enrichment, and the sources referred to there, can be a decent starting point. (That said, it’s good practice to double-check on any facts found on Wikipedia, as it’s not always the most reliable source of information.)
I’m fully aware that we’re not rodents, and that results from studies on animals don’t always carry over to humans. However, there are a couple of very interesting UC Irvine studies that have tried implementing forms of environmental enrichment as a therapy for children with autism. The initial study published in 2013 (see also here and here) showed promising results , and was followed by a somewhat more thorough study in 2015. In short, some of the children in these studies were exposed to a set routine of sensory stimulation (while some weren’t, as comparison), and a large part of the children who recieved the environmental/sensory enrichment therapy showed significant improvements. What excites me most about these studies is that the routines they used are fairly simple, they can be done at home and at a low cost, and they don’t pose any notable risk to the child. In fact, it all seems quite enjoyable, which I think is something that therapies – especially for kids – should always strive to be.
So what about those 50 things?
Well, as I see it, the 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ are a great way to achieve multisensory, environmental enrichment in practice. At the same time, we get a load of fun and often educational experiences together, enjoying the great outdoors!
We got started at the end of August, with activity no.21 on the list: Picking blackberries. I’m not sure if Bodiam castle strictly counts as “in the wild”, but with Penguin both picking and eating the juicy berries (and juicy not being one of his preffered textures) , I’ll happily go with that any day of the week 🙂
The blackberry activity was most definitely a multisensory experience, as was activity no.37: Rockpooling! I’ve never gone rockpooling before, so this was a first for both me and Penguin. We had daddy with us, and he’d been rockpooling as a child, so acted as our guide on this adventure.
We followed up on the rockpooling by checking out websites and videos with facts about sea anemones and other rockpool living creatures, as well as of course filling in the activity page in our 50 things scrapbook 🙂
Other things that we’ve ticked off on our list so far include swimming in the sea, taking a walk barefoot, playing in the rain and rolling down a hill. That last one Penguin did spontaneously down a sand dune a couple of days ago, much to my surprise, as it’s something he’s never initiated before. And he seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, too.
To get all of the 50 things done before Penguin reaches 11¾, we’ll need to do almost one thing per week. Although I’m not 100% sure we’ll achieve that goal, we’re certainly up for having a good go at it, and I think we’re off to a decent start!