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Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor    |    Volunteer Tutor with Second Level Students     |     

A Member of The Tutors' Association






I have read quite a number of Posts on the subjects of children and exercise, and children spending time outdoors, and the many, very varied, responses. 



A good number agreed that children should be outside playing as often as possible.  However, there was a large cohort which seemed keen NOT to have children outside.  Reasons cited were that walking with young children in suburban or inner city situations is DANGEROUS; or just not possible, as parents’ commutes to and from work are too long, and their children are in childcare or school and after-school for too many hours a day, for there to be any time left to walk around the neighbourhood.  It is easy to understand that people can be exhausted at the end of a long day. 

But are weekends not for family life, having a laugh outdoors, hail, rain, or snow?!



I got a sense from many of the negative responses that the idea of children, accompanied by a parent(s) or a responsible adult, walking outdoors, was to be avoided.  I wondered if walking is seen as a less salubrious form of transport, and that driving children everywhere fulfils part of a parent's self-image as dedicated to the children's welfare.  A scary suburban or inner city life is self-fulfilling, if the people who live there will not walk about their neighbourhoods.  If they avoid walking their own streets, leaving them deserted, they do become frightening to some.

We own our own Streets!





Remember well your Summer experiences, and make good memories of them by talking about them together.  Now that the wind is definitely colder, and the evenings are closing in earlier, there is still a wonderful world of Nature to discover in our city streets!



The Summer clothes are all packed away for another year: the rain gear, rain ponchos, wellingtons, galoshes, duffel coats, fleeces, mackintoshes, Ulsters, and all those articles with exciting names are out.  Mitten, gloves, bonnets, caps, beanies, scarves, balaclavas: how many more can YOU add to the list?



MEMORIES are not made of wearing the 'right' boots.  They are built on discovering new skills; new, exciting, hibernating creatures in the leaf mould and twigs at the base of a tree in the local park; new friends, new self-reliance and confidence.  



Given the many constraints on young peoples' lives, let us try to give them the maximum of the beauties of Autumn and Winter.

 Every season has its own glories, and finding out about the Nature at the centre of those glories, is a joy for life!



We really do not know what is going on around us a great deal of the time.  Trees change their leaf colour to the glories of Autumn, and the shiny berries of many colours  appeared.  Then, leaves have all flown away, and a scarce few berries hang on, small and shrivelled - don't forget though, that they hold the seeds for Spring.   Most birds have made their great migrations, but a few hardy types stay in the City for Winter.  Do you know which ones, and why they stay?



BIRDS SEE MORE colours than humans in several ways.  Not only are birds able to perceive familiar colours as well as parts of the ultraviolet spectrum that are invisible to human eyes, but they also have better visual acuity to determine subtle differences between similar shades of colour, gradations that humans are not able to discern.  



Some berries and other fruits have waxy coatings that reflect UV light, making them stand out vibrantly against green foliage. Birds can see the fruit much more clearly, making foraging much easier.  Some insects also reflect UV light, and certain flowers will as well, giving birds a distinct advantage for finding those food sources.  



Please go to for more utterly fascinating information on the extraordinary range of vision of birds of many types.



One of the most valuable books in any household is a book on the local flora and fauna, with photographs and sketches.  With this book in hand, birds visiting for Winter can be identified, and a possible food source searched for and discovered.  Trees can be recognized by their shape - their bare skeletons, alone.  Whatever berries, fruits, or nuts may be left can be explained, and we may learn for ourselves what animals like eating which best.  



As the days get colder city foxes have to get bolder and come out into the open at night in search of food.  They are a flash of russet if you see one rush by!



Please go to this link to discover why leaves change colour in Autumn  



With encouragement to dress for the day, send your youngsters out with a friend or two, to examine the street in front of your house.  How many trees are there; what species; do they bear berries, fruit, or nuts?  Would you be able to see birds eating from a second or third floor window? What are the few birds left now that the great migrations have gone?  Which ones stick it out in the City for the Winter?   The youngsters don't have to travel any distance to see Nature fighting her way through the concrete world, and winning.



Children and young people can hibernate too, not going out to play with friends, and sticking to television and X-Boxes.



Well, they need to get out, properly dressed, with a smear of Vaseline on the eyes, lips and around the nostrils if you live someplace very cold. 


What is the quickest way to warm up?  RUN! 


Ring a couple of parents, guardians, or carers of nearby friends, and encourage them to send their children out to have fun together.  They'll feel the breathing of the cold air through their nostrils, in their mouths, and down their throats; their noses get red and chilly, and their faces start to glow and their eyes shine, as they take on Winter according to their own lights.


These periods spent outside give youngsters LOTS AND LOTS of time to spend being young and discovering themselves.



Please see my Companion Post called "What's A Young Life?" on the website Menu, and called  

Work / Life Balance for Our Youngsters?

 on the actual Post.





Children's and Youngsters' Well-Being

Copyright: <a href=''>stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>









It seems many children’s out of school lives, especially in the colder months, are regulated around play dates and sleepovers, with a specific group of children, and families taking turns to host the events.  Children are ferried to and from these dates by parents or childminders.  



These habits have made me wonder and worry about the modern strictures on the lives of our children and youngsters.




According to Bill Murphy Jr, of, students, and especially boys, need hours of physical activity every day; and they do not get enough because their schools will not let them.  (Please see the excerpts from various Studies gathered together in the last Section of this Post.  They deal with the co-relation between physical activity, behaviour, and well-being, amongst other matters.)



We inhibit children's academic growth (especially among boys), because the lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate. (Please see the details of the Finnish Study on physical inactivity leading to poor school results and ill-health in the last Section of this Post.)



Group activities seem usually to involve visits to the cinema, or to themed arenas based around well-known animated film or television characters.  If one adds the price of soft drinks, popcorn, chocolates or other sweets, to cinema ticket prices, and the cost of soft drinks, pizzas, burgers, or hot dogs, to the sleepover, these events become expensive, particularly if the host family is expected to pay for everything for all the children.  A presumption arises that certain treats always accompany these events, and parents who try to change the menu, to cut out at least some of the unhealthy foods and drinks, seem to be breaking sacred rules. 



These are physically sedate activities, involving excessive consumption of poor nutritional quality foods and drinks.  These outings or sleepovers could automatically exclude some classmates or neighbours because of the cost involved.



When do children get to run around freely living in their imaginations, rather than being part of structured sports?  

All physical activity is welcome, but children need opportunities to pretend they are flying.




It appears some children live in a 'virtual' compound, playing with the same group of children, meeting the same sets of parents, and being fed passive entertainment that requires little intellectual or physical engagement.



All children, from a young age, and young people, NEED three hours free play, running around, every day Due to cut backs in schools, breaktimes have been shortened, and have become fewer in some schools as there are fewer teachers to supervise.


At school, the inclination NOT to go outside for a break, even if it's dry and sunny, seems the soporific choice of many. 



With stuffy, heated, classrooms - air and  movement are crucial to children's health - physical, intellectual, and emotional.  The exercise is vital to aiding learning.



Children, especially young children, just CANNOT be expected to sit at a desk for four hours straight.  They go bonkers and then get into trouble for being 'unruly'.  

They feel the unfairness of it very strongly.





What happened to developing the social skills of greeting neighbours, young and old, and remarking on the weather? 



Why should children be denied the pleasure of walking around their own neighbourhoods with an adult, noticing the trees as they change through the seasons, and having a good snoop in gardens and window boxes as they pass?  A child has to have a sense of belonging, and that cannot be based solely around a limited group of people.





A child has to be able to say “This is my street; that is our postman, Seamus; there is our local shop, owned by Mrs Golden, where I spend my pocket money”.  



Children have to know they can go to their neighbour, upstairs or next door, if there is an accident at home, and help is needed.  Clearly, they would have to know these neighbours, know their names, and know them well enough to decide which would be most useful in an emergency. 



As a child, knowing where you live, and who lives around you, helps develop necessary self-reliance and resilience. 




If a child watches parents and other adults interact with neighbours, and people in shops, they will acquire the habits of making transactions in shops in a friendly fashion, helping to carry shopping, or helping weed an older neighbour’s garden or window box: there is so much to learn from these older neighbours on the local wildlife, where to see the hedgehogs hibernate, and where the foxes eat.



This child is laying foundations for a well-balanced, engaged, sociable, responsible, personality.







[Excerpts follow from an Article of Monday, January 05, 2015, by Donal Hickey, in the Irish Examiner newspaper.]



'PEOPLE in city and country areas may hear eerie cries these nights, but be not be afraid.  The screams might sound like the banshee' (anglicisation of the Irish for the fairy woman). 'More than likely, however, it’s a female fox as we are in the mating season for the madra rua' (the Irish for fox, madra rua translates as "red dog").



'Foxes mate in January / February and gardaí (police) have been called out, at times, by concerned people to investigate such screams which can be like those of a child in distress.'



'Despite being painted, historically, as a villain in children’s storybooks, and a killer of farmyard fowl, the fox is a human’s friend in many ways. In a recent column, we referred to a huge growth in the rat population this year, but the fox preys on rats and it is estimated in some studies that the average fox can kill upwards of six rodents per day.'



'People keeping hens these days usually have them well protected – indeed mink can be a bigger threat in that regard in some areas.  We regularly see foxes crossing roads at night and the population would appear quite strong. Unfortunately, though, many foxes are also killed by traffic.'



'The old saying, "as cute as a fox’’, contains more than a grain of truth, for this is a very intelligent animal as evidenced by the way it has adapted to the urban environment.  According to research in England, there are about 33,000 foxes roaming UK cities, and clearly thriving there. I’ve seen foxes nonchalantly walking around residential areas of London after dark, looking very much at home.'



'Urban foxes are common in Dublin City and suburbs, and can be seen at night around Grafton St and O’Connell St, with dens near Dáil Eireann (Irish Parliament) ... .'  These locations are all in the City Centre of Dublin.



'Foxes can poke out ample food by raiding domestic waste bins or eating food left out for household pets.  So, if you don’t want them around, don’t leave food lying around outside.  Where foxes are common, many houses will be visited at some stage of the night, back or front garden.



' ... people should not panic if they see a fox in the garden,'  .... 'foxes are pretty harmless and they will run away if approached.  However, as with all wild animals, never try to corner a fox as it may bite in panic.'



'The fact that urban foxes can be very daring sometimes upsets people. This is because they have become accustomed to the noise and smells of the city.'



'The vixen gives birth in March / April to four or five cubs in the den and, during the Summer, the young will spend a lot of time playing above ground.  From late September the cubs begin to disperse to find their own territories.'









I do not imagine for a moment that the parents who organize their children’s lives down to the smallest detail, mean to restrict their children’s social and personal development.  Indeed, they may believe that they are spending time and money for the greater benefit of their children.





If one takes away the pre-planning of almost every minute of children's social events, and have children meet up, wearing appropriate clothing and footwear, and escort them on a walk to a local park, no matter the weather, with sufficient adults to keep track of the children, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!





The children will make up their own activities.  This may take a while, because many are used to being handed their pastimes, but they should be let get on with it, without assistance. 



The adults would have to refrain, no matter how difficult, from making suggestions for games or organised activities.  There would be no footballs, no hurleys, and no sliotars. 



Some children will chase around wildly, some will climb almost anything, and others will get down on the grass and peep under stones.  Children will slip, trip up, fall over.  A few bruises, scrapes, and bumps, are inevitable, and should not be fussed over.  



The children should be left to their own devices, and shall start coming up with their own ideas of what they want to do once they start getting used to the space they are in.  They could investigate puddles with a veneer of ice, and possibly discover a fox's den, or get together in small groups to count how many different types of tree they can find.  They could compete to see how many very rare specimens of perfect leaves they can find.



Some will be bored, possibly for a good while, waiting for something to happen.  Eventually, these children will realize that they have to do it for themselves.

Let them have the time they need to realize this.



Boredom is a very important part of children's lives.  

It is the base from which inspiration is born.



Getting muddy, grass-stained, and soggy, are to be expected, and nobody should be wearing ‘good’ clothes.  The adults’ job is to watch out for the children's safety, not to worry about youngsters' clothes getting dirty!



Other children will be playing in the park, and meeting up is inevitable.  With luck, magic caves containing monsters, may be discovered!



Enjoy Every Moment Outdoors!

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O'Brien



Please see the Companion Post ~

"Nature in the City"



If you have any comments, positive or negative, I should welcome hearing your views.


If you find any errors or wish to disagree with any of the above, I should be very glad to hear from you.




I am an elected Member of The Tutors' Association.


See my Linkedin site for further information







If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly.  If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite!  If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text.  


I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions.  I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!



Excerpts of Studies on Welfare of Children and Youngsters

My photo of the pinks, violets, mauves, and purples of a Maple in its Autumn colour,



Excerpts of Studies on Welfare of Children and Youngsters


Excerpts of Studies and Pieces follow by:

Bill Murphy Jr, of; 

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland; 

Belinda Luscombe in Time Magazine; 

Angela Hanscom, a Paediatric Occupational Therapist;

Plus, a disturbing  piece on 'Expanding the Definition of ADHD'.



According to Bill Murphy Jr, of, students, and especially boys, need hours of physical activity every day; and they do not get enough because their schools will not let them.


Apart from insufficient teacher numbers to supervise morning and afternoon breaks, many activities which were allowed previously, like running and playing chasing in the yard, are now prohibited because of insurance cover worries.



Bill Murphy Jr outlined the following research results.


 1.     We overprotect children and youngsters, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers - which ultimately increases their likelihood of real negative health issues.


 2.    We inhibit children's academic growth (especially among boys), because the lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate.


 3.     When they fail to conform quietly to this low-energy paradigm, we over-diagnose or even punish kids for reacting the way they are naturally built to react.


[Most boys appear to be in a constant state of motion: running, jumping, fighting, playing, pushing, getting hurt - maybe getting upset - and getting right back into the physical action.


Except when at school, where they are required to sit still for long periods of time in the classroom.  When they fail to stay still, how are they punished?  SADLY, OFTEN, by being denied going out to the yard for their next break, and having to sit at their desks, while their classmates are out in the air.  (My comment, ICOB.)]





Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently tried to document whether boys actually achieve less in school when they are restricted from running around and being physically active.



They studied 153 children, aged 6 to 8, and tracked how much physical activity and sedentary time they had during the day.  According to a report by Belinda Luscombe in Time, the less "moderate to vigorous physical activity" the boys had each day, the harder it was for them to develop good reading skills.



The more time children ... spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years.  [It] also had a negative impact on their ability to do maths.



The results did not apply to girls, for which there are a few possible explanations.  It may be that girls have physiological differences, or maybe they were just as eager to move around as the boys, but they were better able to set aside that disappointment, and concentrate.



This concern is not confined to poorer academic achievement.  Many observers and researchers now say limited physical activity leads to real physical and mental harm in children and youngsters, even in the short termbefore they have grown up.







Angela Hanscom, a paediatric occupational therapist, interviewed young children to ask them what recess and play are like in the second decade of the 21st century. They answered as follows.


"We have monkey bars, but we aren't allowed to go upside down on them.  They think we are going to hurt ourselves.  I think I'm old enough to try going upside down."


"We have woods, but can't go anywhere near them. It's too dangerous."


"When it snows, we can't touch it with our foot, or we have to stand by the teacher for the rest of recess."



Restricting children’s movement like this leads them to increased anger and frustration, less ability to regulate emotions, and higher aggressiveness, during the limited time periods in which they are allowed to play.   Angela Hanscom writes "Elementary children need at least three hours of active free play a day to maintain good health and wellness.  Currently, they are only getting a fraction".






Expanding the Definition of ADHD

In the United States, ADHD diagnoses in children and youngsters are more likely now than they were in years past, but one may not realise that the number of diagnoses is still rising, and at an alarming rate.  In 2003, for example, it was diagnosed in about 7.8 per cent of youngsters, but that rose to 9.5 per cent in 2007, and 11 per cent in 2011.  

That is a 40 per cent increase in eight years.



There are a couple of reasons to explain this dramatic increase in diagnoses. 

The definition of ADHD has been changed to make it more expansive.  

Many critics argue it is also because of the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, since the leading treatment for ADHD is a prescription medication.



Angela Hanscom, in a separate article, says it is also because we are forcing children and youngsters to sit still longer, and they are simply reacting as nature intended.


"Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors," she writes.  "Let’s face it: children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem."


Angela Hanscom reminds us of the stakes, "In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention.  In order for them to pay attention, we need to let them move".


[It is much easier to control a classroom in which the children have to sit quietly, than one where a little bit of managed chaos is allowed.   Nobody judges teachers on whether or not they gave their students sufficient break times during the day.  Teachers are always conscious of the overly protective parents who can make trouble if one of their children falls in the school yard (My comment, ICOB.)]


When young students get enough time to blow off steam and become relaxed, and when they return to the classroom, students are "less fidgety and more focused," one teacher said.  They "listen more attentively, follow directions, and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything".


 [All underling, colouring of text, and italics above were done by me, ICOB.]