Who we are and What we do:
The Fox Guild has 2 branches:
- Little Foxes Nature Playgroup, a free playgroup coordinated voluntarily by The Fox Guild and run by members; and
- Nature Play Kids OT, a private Occupational Therapy consulting service.
The Fox Guild – Nature Play the OT way! is owned by Occupational Therapist (OT) and mum to three young kids, Michelle. Michelle has been an Occupational Therapist for 18 years. Michelle has spent many years running groups and individual sessions with children of all ages and ability. She is also passionate about her work consulting with local councils and childcare centres on establishing nature play programs and running inclusive activities/groups for all abilities. Michelle has specialist skills in handwriting and fine motor development and a keen interest in using nature as a tool to assist with child development, kinder and school readiness.
- Bachelor Occupational Therapy (La Trobe University, 2000)
- Registered with AHPRA
- Member of Occupational Therapy Australia
- Bachelor of Laws (La Trobe University, 2005)
Michelle loves getting muddy and climbing trees and in her spare time she will throw kids and tent and dog in the car and head off for an adventure!
What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?
Occupational therapists (OT’s) help people participate in activities they need or want to do in their everyday life. OT’s work with people to identify their goals. For children these goals may be personal activities like getting dressed, school activities like writing, and kinder activities like holding a paint brush or climbing up a slide. OT’s use different activities to help address these goals. Sometimes they may be task specific, like actually practicing pulling up pants, or climbing up a ladder. Most of the time however we use seemingly unrelated and unstructured play to help develop the underlying skills required to achieve the goal. For example climbing up a tree. This activity is not only fun, it has many motor, sensory, social and behavioural benefits.
Why Nature Play?
Unstructured play time in nature offers so many social, emotional and developmental benefits. And nature provides an endless source of opportunities for an Occupational Therapist to work on skill development. So the question is not why? but why not? Sure nature may be a tad unpredictable. But we see that as a positive opportunity to develop resilience.
Encouraging a child to go outside in all weather builds resilience, but more importantly it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the “bad” days in favor of a handful of “good” ones – a life of endless expectations & conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine – Nicolette Sowder (courtesy of Wilderchild.com)
So, Nature Play the OT Way. What do we do and why do we do it?
Some activities…simple yet so many benefits…
Mud painting at a tree easel.
- The only tool is a paint brush. Nature will provide the mud and the tree!
- Working on a vertical surface requires arm/shoulder muscles to work against gravity. This helps develop shoulder and elbow stability. This is important for ultimately controlling the arm, then hand, then fingers.
- Working at an easel encourages midline crossing and bilateral coordination (using both hands together, using the non-dominant hand to stabilise).
- Standing up encourages core strength, it gives the postural muscles a workout.
- Working on a vertical surface is a fantastic and fun way for toddlers/pre-schoolers to develop the skills they will need for kinder/school. Both sitting at a desk and playing in the yard.
Climbing up a tree or over fallen branches.
- No tools. Nature will provide the trees!
- Climbing over or up trees challenges a child’s dynamic balance to stay upright whilst moving. To maintain this balance requires skills including attention, concentration, body awareness, hand-eye coordination, muscle strength, and sensory processing.
- Climbing over or up trees helps develop the muscles in the stomach and back which are important for holding the body upright in a chair. It helps develop the muscles in the shoulders, arms and hands which are important for controlling tools like pencils.
- This activity also helps develop confidence and problem solving skills. Climbing a tree can be scary. And often climbing up is a whole lot easier than climbing down! But the sense of achievement felt when the task is mastered just gives a child more confidence to go higher! The hardest part of climbing a tree is being the parent at the bottom!
- With mud a child can create anything, they can let their imaginations run wild! Cakes, paint, coffee for mum, creatures.
Mud is a rich (though sometimes scary) sensory experience. It is slimy, it can be a bit prickly with stones and twigs, and it can be cold.
- Using tools like shovels which create a deep pressure experience can help to make the tickly sensation of mud a little more bearable.
- Talking to your child about what they are touching is a great way to develop speech and language skills. It exposes children to concepts like empty/full, cold/warm, heavy/light etc.
- Exposure to mud apparently makes big people happy too!
- Playing in mud encourages fine motor skill development. It requires tool manipulation, squishing mud balls strengthens little finger muscles.
- It also demands a lot from core muscles as children hold different postures and carry heavy pots.
- There will not be tools for everyone! So sharing and negotiation skills will be challenged.