I am thrilled to let you know that a project of our city – one that I also was working on – made it onto the shortlist of the international inspire award from cfci unicef and is now up for public voting. The project with …
During this summer vacation, my kids did one week of summer camp on the “Bauspielplatz”, which could be translated with the words “Construction Playground”. They had a wonderful time there and I think, the pedagogical concept of this playground is so great, it is definitely worth sharing some info about it. It is part of the municipal youth work in the child friendly city Regensburg.
Kids are builders and want to construct
Kids love to build something. They want to be creative and shape their environment. When I was a kid, there was hardly anything my friends and I liked more, than building little playhouses or forts in the forest or our backyard. My favorite toy was my swiss army pocketknife, just because I could use it for being creative, for making and building so many things with it. We would be out in the forest all day, just once in a while come home to go get some more materials like ropes and tools and grab a snack and then be gone again until dinner time.
The benefits of experiencing such play opportunities were, that we learned to be creative, to figure things out, we were given the opportunity of failing, trying again and not giving up until our planned fort was standing. We learned to cooperate, to visualize things, to be patient, to concentrate and so much more.
So when my kids turned 5 we gave them each their own pocket knife and a training on how to use it. Fortunately, we have a big natural yard and can provide them with tools and wood and bushes and many opportunities for building things and being creative. Over the years, that’s, what my kids spent most of their leisure time with: building little hideaways behind and under bushes, on trees, carving, etc. or playing in the forest close to our house.
Unfortunately, for various reasons today many children don’t have the opportunity for such free, creative and independent play anymore. Many children don’t have access to big natural backyards or forests. More and more parents are nervous about the risks of letting a child handle tools, so instead of teaching them to handle tools safely some don’t allow their kids to use tools at all.
The construction playground in the City of Regensburg is a place where today’s children are given the opportunity to experience this kind of free and creative play.
What is the construction playground?
The construction playground is an outdoor place where children come to play outside and can built their own play structures.
The playground is open to children and teens from ages 8 to 14 and it is supervised by two professionals with pedagogical (social worker) and carpenter degrees. The kids can participate in the program free of charge. Unlike other playgrounds in our city, kids can only visit the playground during opening hours, when the staff is on site. The staff is teaching the children to properly use the tools and provides a setting, in which the kids are allowed to plan, build and play as independently as possible. There are clear rules and structures on the playground that serve the safety of all participants. The children are taught to act respectfully with each other and the staff and to handle the materials and tools carefully.
When the children arrive for the first time, they get a training on how to properly use real tools. After this training, they are allowed to borrow tools like real saws, hammers, nails, etc. as well as wood for building their own constructions. The kids are supervised on the playground, but on normal opening days they can come and leave the playground independently. During vacation times the team also organizes vacation day camps in which kids can spend the whole week on the construction playground in a steady group. They come in the morning and leave in the late afternoon.
The site is almost one acre big and located right next to a public youth center of the city. A bit more than half of the area is covered with a small forest with trees and bushes for free play. The “construction area” is a lawn on which the kids can built there houses and other constructions. There also is a fire pit and the staff makes an open camp fire with the kids every day. The tools are stored in a container and there is a second living container with a restroom on site as well.
The construction playground is part of the municipal youth work of the City of Regensburg and run by the society of “Regensburger Eltern” a nonprofit organization. The City of Regensburg created the terrain and entrusted it to the organization for the use of this facility. The city also provides some of the funds necessary to run the playground. Additional funds come for example from donations.
I could go on and on, about how great this playground is. But I think the videos created by the facility speak more than thousand words. So I want to encourage you to check out the videos they put on youtube.
A summer camp during corona?
Well, some of you might think, who can she send her kids to summer camp during corona times? First of all, when my kids went to the camp, we had zero Covid_19 cases in my city within the last seven days. That is why our politicians allowed the facilities of our municipal youth work to open again under certain corona safety rules. The kids were only in a small group and outdoors all the time. Children with contact to Covid patients or Covid Symptoms within the last 14 days were not allowed to the playground. They were social distancing and whenever they could not stay 6 feet apart or had to use the restrooms they were wearing their face masks. Everyone brought their own lunch and the tools were disinfected before the next person could use it. After months of homeschooling my kids so much needed some form of social contact, some way of getting out of the house and a change of scenery and we parents – well we kind of needed a break, too.
So bottom line: It was a great week, my kids loved it and we all stayed healthy.
You can find further info about the construction playground here on it’s homepage. However, it’s in German…
Discrimination and injustice is a touchy subject for some “white” people. Many “white” people don’t want to be racists and don’t mean to actively discriminate. It’s a subject some parents don’t want to address or don’t feel necessary to address. However, we should be aware, …
I want my children to learn that all humans are our brothers and sisters, all are equally valuable and all have to be treated with the same dignity and respect. I want them to appreciate how beautiful it is that God has created humanity with …
… and why this talk is a crucial point in my parenting
With all the protests and riots going on lately about justice for George Floyd and #blacklivesmatter, more and more articles and TV messages are popping up about “how to talk to your child about this difficult topic”. The message they send seems to be: White people have to talk to their children about discrimination and racism, but (some?) are afraid that it would be to disturbing for their children and don’t know how to do it.
All I could think was: “How could this talk NOT have been part in normal, natural and modern 2020 parenting?”
Starting a conversation
I don’t expect to get everything that I write about this topic perfect. I just want to contribute a little by showing, how I personally in my family and in my work address the topic discrimination and racism. Maybe it can encourage some parents to address the topic as well. Maybe you know better and can teach me. I invite you for constructive feedback and I would love to learn form you.
Learning about discrimination and racism in my own childhood:
My parents had addressed racism with me and my brother from early age on and we never had the feeling we were too young or didn’t understand…
When I went to high school in the US, we had “Uncle Tom’s cabin” on the 11th grader reading list. I told my teacher, that I had already read the book in Germany when I was in 9 years old, because it was just one of many good old books of my mom and grandma, that were in our house and I liked to read. My American teacher looked at me like I had grown an extra head, telling me that no 9 year old should be exposed to such stories and could understand the story. I was really surprised, because I know, that I as a child had understood the story very well and I understood what it was about. Without reading it again, after 8 years I could give her a good review and critic about the book. It may have influenced my picture of the world, of privileged people and of injustice. But it did not harm me or mess me up as a child in any way.
Because kids will learn – one way or the other
One of the beautiful things of parenting is that we parents get to show and explain our child the world. Children are like little sponges. They want to learn about the world, find their place in it and they suck up all the info they get. Children learn from our example and from what we explain to them as well as from what we don’t say and what we ignore. Discrimination is real and also our children will, at some point witness some form of discrimination. I don’t want to give my children the signal that discrimination was OK by ignoring it and not taking a stand.
As the #metoo movement showed us, it is not enough to not violate women. Men have to actively stand up against discrimination and violation of women or the system will never change. The same goes for racism. It is not enough as a privileged white person to not be a racist and to not discriminate. As long as there is racism, we have to actively stand up for what is right and be actively anti racist. And we have to teach our children.
As parents we teach about “right” and “wrong”, how to behave and what values we stand for. We teach our child what is “the norm”. Unfortunately there are many white people, who grow up thinking their looks and their way of living is the norm, the standard that everyone and everything should be measured by. Kids search for their group. They want to know, where they belong to. So we as parents have to reflect whether we teach them that diversity and love and kindness is the norm or that only our looks and our culture are the norm everyone should be measured by. It is not a coincidence that – at least in Germany – the statistics show, that racism and xenophobia is the strongest, where there are the least foreigners. People who grow up with people from other cultures and/or races learn, that there is more than their own way, they learn to value diversity and be open minded to people who are different from them.
I want our kids to grow up as strong and confident persons, who have learned to love and respect themselves and others. I want to teach them to stand up for themselves, for others and for what is right.
Of course we want and need to protect our children from harm and we don’t provide them with graphic pictures of the worst things humans are capable of. But we definitely can tell them the truth about what is going on in a way they understand. How are they supposed to find their place in this world if we don’t take a stand? Let’s be realistic. As a social worker I know as a fact, that there are racists and xenophobe right winged nationalists and even Neo Nazis also in my city trying to spread their hate and fear and to convince young people of their mentality. Not just parents but all adults who treasure freedom, human rights and our democracy – especially those who work with kids – need to be aware of this, address the topic and strengthen our youth against such approaches.
What good does it do to our children to grow up in a bubble? I want my children to grow up with both feet in this world. I want them to grow up strong and positive. Not in an ignorant “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” way but in a way of being aware of what is going on and confident to stand for their values. Every child will at some point during childhood experience some kind of discrimination (I will explain this in my next posts). It is our responsibility as parents, to acknowledge and address this, show our position to it and to put it in the context of the bigger picture. Let’s use the strong emotions our children feel when confronted with discrimination, make them aware of it and strengthen our kids in a way that helps them become compassionate and insightful strong adults.
So of course I explained to my kids what was going on, when my friend Astrid (#helpastrid) found out that her chances of surviving leukemia were way smaller than a white person’s chances because her father was African. (Read more here). Of course I took my kids with me, when we organized stem cell donor drives, looking for a donor for her and for any people of color. It is so important to not only tell kids, what is right, but to set the example by doing right and taking a stand. By showing them, what they can contribute to make it better.
And now – with the murder of George Floyd – of course I explained to my children what happened and what is going on. They need to know.
There are three main aspects I as a parent want my kids to learn, when it comes to discrimination and also to racism:
- Respect the equal value and rights of all human beings and see the beauty in the diversity
- Recognize discrimination and injustice and take a stand against it
- Educate yourself and your children about the background and history of discrimination and racism
Read in my following posts in detail, how I approach those subjects with my kids.
Covid 19 is not only a health threat because of the risk of a virus infection. The effects the lockdown and social distancing have on our economy, our jobs, our homes, on our physical and mental health, on family lives and relationships are severe. Lately media talked much about the impact the lockdowns have on our economies worldwide. But I think it is time to focus on how the corona crises effects our children.
Children lost many of their most essential rights. There are reasons, why the UN agreed on the Children’s rights convention and why certain rights were written into this convention: There are certain things, that are important for a healthy and good development of children. The right to play outside, the right to get an education, the right to be protected from violence and abuse, the right for a healthy upbringing with enough medical care and healthy food, etc. all these are truly important.
The Covid 19 has great impact on children’s lives. Kids are in lockdown in their homes. Yes there are children, who have big homes and gardens and are enjoying that their parents finally have more time for them. But let’s for once look at the children, who are struggling now.
For many kids “home” means staying in small confined apartments, with hardly any place to play and be physically active. Sometimes even without a balcony. Some children are/were locked in more confined apartments than some prisoners in some countries. But kids need to play and they need to play outdoors! Just the fact, that children need to be exposed to the sun to produce enough vitamin D to grow up healthy, shows how important outdoor play is for their development. In some countries – like Spain – they weren’t even allowed to leave the house for weeks. Have you seen the pictures of when the Spanish Children were finally free to go play outside! Few eyes can keep dry at the sight of that joy and burst of energy and abundance of life!
Schools are closed and kids have to do homeschooling. For a couple days, this may have sounded like fun to many kids (definitely to my kids). But after 7 weeks children and parents are really feeling the impact of the lack of schooling.
While balancing work and parenting is challenging on normal days, homeschooling is putting a lot of extra pressure on families now. Some kids comply and try their best to learn and not fall behind too much. Many parents handle the situation somehow and take on the role of teachers. However as far as our personal experience goes and after talking to parents of our kids’ classes, we know that, even in the best coping families, kids try to focus on some important subjects but can and do not learn as much as they normally would at school. I admit that for some subjects learning less is ok, but for some things like foreign languages and Maths the basics are important.
And let’s not forget the social aspect: Children have to study now like college kids before big exams: alone for hours (and unlike college kids used to be able to do, they cannot go out afterwards and meet their friends at parties). My kids are trying hard and I am there to support them as well as I can, (while simultaneously working from home), but they do get lonely and sad because they miss their classmates and teachers.
I hope that our school systems will use this crises as a chance to review, what should really be taught at schools, how much pressure we should normally put kids under and how we could change school requirements in general to teach children the basics (like maths and languages) really well and then focus on teaching skills like how to solve problems, how to study, how to approach new subjects, how to set goals and reach them, how to be creative and social skills instead of only learning things by heart in times of google, reproducing knowledge for tests and then forgetting most of it. We also should review how and what we test at schools… But that’s a topic for another day.
What really concerns me and many professionals who work with underprivileged children, is the impact the lockdown has on those kids. There are so many things that could be said about their situation. Overall, I guess one could just say that Covid 19 makes difficult situations for underprivileged families even more difficult, the gap between children from these families and well-situated kids widens even more, and it becomes more and more difficult to catch up.
Just look at the homeschooling situation: While many middle class parents struggle to keep an overview over the assignments and to teach their kids, many socially disadvantaged families don’t even have the hardware to receive the assignments to print the worksheets out and some parents can’t even read the assignments (because they often don’t know the language of the country they live in well enough), let alone explain the topics to the children. While normally teachers would be trying to teach immigrant kids the language of the country they live in and they hear and speak this language at school, these kids now only hear the language that is spoken at their homes. So, for these kids it becomes even harder to catch up with the other kids in class.
But these are not the only homeschooling problems we social workers see in underprivileged families. Often, families, who don’t have the resources to print out and help with schoolwork, also live in smaller and more confined places than other families. And they live closer to bigger streets with more traffic and less opportunities to play outside. Usually where I live the situation is not too bad for low income families, because as a child friendly city, Regensburg has created a network of playgrounds that provides a playground within walking distance for every child – no matter where they live. And we have youth centers in every part of the city, where children and youngsters can go and spend their afternoons with lots of opportunities for play, physical activities, social interaction and social workers who are there if needed. But now, with playgrounds and youth centers closed, many children, have no private yards to play outside. Many parents don’t take them to the park and so many kids are literally locked down in their small apartments. Have you ever tried to make a kid study and concentrate, that hasn’t played and physically moved for a while? If you have, you will understand, why so many of my social work colleagues say, that many parents have completely given up on homeschooling. They cannot make their kids study.
Domestic violence, abuse and neglect are other important issue to address. In my country, the departments for family and youth work closely together with schools, daycares, pediatricians etc. to ensure children’s welfare. When parents are overwhelmed, when children are in danger of neglect or in danger of abuse, CPS forms protective networks with schools and work out aid plans to support the whole family and protect the children. For example, teachers keep a very close eye on those kids. Social workers visit the families regularly and support the parents and children. Now with schools and daycares closed, it is much more difficult to ensure the welfare of endangered children, while at the same time the stress level in many families rises due to lost jobs and worries about income and the fact that every family member has to be home 24/7. Parents and children, don’t get the break from each other they usually have, while kids are at schools or daycares. In some families that matters a lot.
In some countries, there are even children, who don’t get proper meals now, because their families don’t have the resources to provide enough healthy food for them and without the meals children usually get at schools those kids go hungry. NPO Organisations are getting worried, that because of COVID 19 many kids don’t get their doctors appointments, their regular health screenings and in some countries, kids won’t get their vaccinations for other deadly deceases. What good did we do, if we save some children from a COVID 19 death (which scientists say is a disease that compared to adults kids handle best) but then they die or suffer lifelong consequences because of measles, hunger or domestic violence?
It is our responsibility to put children’s welfare first! We have to make sure every child is safe and gets a fair chance in life. It is our responsibility to protect children from hunger, violence, abuse and neglect. (And yes, I mean the real forms of violence and neglect and not what some helicopter people misinterpret as such, like when parents trust a child to ride a bike without supervision.)
I don’t have a solution for those problems. However, I believe it is important to voice them. Big companies complain quickly to their governments, but children’s needs will be overheard if we don’t all take on the responsibility to voice them as well. If we don’t take children’s needs and the impact the pandemic has on them into account, I and many other professional who work with youth believe within the next year, we will see the results at our child psychiatrists, our pediatricians, our counselling services, our CPS and of course, once they open again – in our schools.
Luckily, more and more professionals are speaking up now and first improvements will slowly be done in Germany. For example, our national government decided this week, that playgrounds may be opened soon again, and I truly hope my city can do that soon. That would be one important step to take some pressure from families and give children back their fundamental right for play outdoors.
Where I live we also were now able to open emergency child care groups, that were originally only meant for children of essential workers, for children who our department for family and youth confirms that they are in need of child care, because otherwise their development or safety would be endangered. So we are taking small steps towards the right direction. Let’s hope that our societies manage to handle the pandemic and to ensure the welfare of our youngest at the same time. Join me, and help voicing children’s needs during this pandemic so they will be heard.
Many of my most precious childhood memories are connected to the four elements, earth, water, air and fire. When life is difficult for me, I can draw strength from those memories. I believe that playful experiences with the four elements are essential for good and …
Many parents put lots of thought into how to design their child’s room, because they want to create a nurturing environment, that helps the child to feel safe, calm and balanced and is encouraging for the child’s exploration sense and creativity. So they carefully pick …