Picture the scene: Dusk. The warm light of the sunset colours the beaten ground in shades of red and orange. Everything is silent, except for the wind rustling the leaves and the distant chirruping of insects. A human figure stands out against the background, looking around in silence, careful of every sound. Suddenly, a light rummaging noise reaches his ears. A bush rustles slightly nearby, then stops. But by now there can be no doubt. The human turns to face the creature that he knows will soon come out and show itself. And just a few seconds later, the bush opens up and a creature emerges from the vegetation. For a second, the two protagonists – man and beast – stare at each other, unmoving. Then the creature takes one step forward, tilting its head to one side, emitting its characteristic noise. Without hesitating, the human pushes forwards and with a lightning quick movement… picks it up off the ground, gently stroking the little head covered in white feathers, and smiles. “So that’s where you were, Rosita. You cheeky little chicken. Come on, let’s get back to the henhouse.”

Perhaps this isn’t exactly how you imagine an encounter between a human being and a dinosaur, but in a certain sense this is what happens, every day, all over the world, without any uproar. Chickens. Turkeys. Pigeons. Swallows. Eagles. Penguins. Though the idea of birds being “related” to dinosaurs is relatively well-known and proven through fossils such as that of the Archeopterix, an increasingly vast amount of scientific evidence – both paleontological as well as genetic – confirm that the distinction between birds and dinosaurs is much more nuanced than we previously thought. Modern birds are not simply “related” to dinosaurs: they are, to all effects, the true descendants of dinosaurs. In particular, birds can be classified as a specialised subgroup of pteropod dinosaurs, who escaped the extinction of their fellows and survived until today. The classification of species, in fact, places Aves (modern birds) within Dinosauria, which in turn is part of the Reptilia (therefore, technically, despite what we are taught at school, birds are reptiles). After all, while in daily life we are more familiar with rather small birds, we cannot forget that until quite recently (less than two million years ago) gigantic birds existed, the so-called South American “terror birds” which could reach heights of up to three metres (the ceiling of an apartment), showing how difficult it is to trace a clear boundary between dinosaurs and birds.

Still today, after almost two centuries of scientific studies on these fascinating creatures, there are still some particularly interesting and debated aspects: for example, if dinosaurs, or some of them, were in fact feathered like modern birds, and in what proportion of their bodies. While we have a rather certain understanding that some gigantic dinosaurs such as diplodocus and triceratops had a skin that was similar to that of modern pachyderms, and that the smaller ones, such as velociraptors, were feathered, the matter of others is much more complex, and new paleontological findings continually shift the consensus of the scientific community. Other questions on which we are learning more and more regard the behaviour of dinosaurs, such as parental care or social dynamics. Interpreting the behaviour of extinct species is always difficult, but we base our interpretations on what we know of similar species or species that occupy similar ecological niches, on their environment and habitat, as well as on reconstructions of their biomechanics thanks to the use of computer simulations.

This continual evolution of knowledge could in some way leave us a little disoriented: how is it possible to trust science, if information changes all the time, sometimes even completely overturning what had been given as certain not long before? It is a legitimate question, but the key to the answer has to be in the transparency of scientific research. In fact, sure of its humble origins of a knowledge born from tangible evidence, it has to be strong enough to know how to recount its changes and evolution, and not only in that kind of crystallised knowledge that at times is shared in scholastic environments.

But how can this subject offer occasions for learning for those working in didactics and education? Dinosaurs hold a place of honour in the collective imagination, but especially amongst children. From toys to cartoons, films to videogames: tyrannosaurus and velociraptor, brontosaurus and triceratops inhabit huge parts of entertainment for various age ranges. The reasons for this affinity may be many: from their gigantic size, a source of admiration, to the mystery of creatures that disappeared over time to re-emerge from the land the reveal a lost world, all the way to the mythological stories of dragons and terrifying monsters that seem to have come straight from the world of fairy tales. This passion for “terrible reptiles” therefore offers us an extraordinary occasion not only to show the wonders of the natural world, both past and present, but also to talk together with children about the continual evolution of knowledge itself, how science proceeds and improves, on the continual search for new answers. And new questions.

Let’s discover together the first educational games

To better understand the importance of learning in the baby age and of the first educational games, let’s start by giving a simple definition of “learning”: it is a process through which in the presence of certain stimuli a behaviour is born and/or modified. Learning is therefore the result of the continuous interaction between the human being and the environment around him, but also between the human being and other human beings, together with the experiences that are experienced throughout life. Pedagogical sciences, sociology and psychology have always studied learning, analysing all the processes that characterise it and searching for new strategies that can make it increasingly valid and effective.

Learning begins in the first days of a newborn baby’s life, continues as a child, and accompanies us for the rest of our lives, even as adults and the elderly.

It may seem strange that a newborn child can learn, but that is indeed the case. If we look closely at an infant, we will see that its way of doing things fully reflects the definition of learning. From the very first weeks of life the child discovers the cause-effect relationship in this way: he understands that he can “make things happen” because every action he takes is answered by a reaction from the parents and adults who take care of him every day; every parent and/or adult who takes care of a child responds to his crying and his gestures with certain actions. This shows us how a child’s cognitive development and learning takes place naturally and gradually, as a result of interaction with the external environment and with the adults around him, who provide him with numerous stimuli. These stimuli are of fundamental importance in stimulating this early form of learning.

Learning in the “baby” phase can be included in the age range from 0 to 3-4 years. Today, fortunately, there are many games specifically designed to stimulate children in this age group. Children as young as a few months old are attracted to games that produce sounds together with lights and images. They are also attracted by so-called ‘sensory games’, i.e. games that stimulate their senses, in particular touch, sight and hearing. The most suitable games are therefore those with these characteristics, for example the classic shape house game. We all remember it: a small house or cube with cut-outs of various geometric shapes and the little shapes to be inserted/set into it. Games of this type have great educational value because they help to improve motor skills, become familiar with colours, learn about shapes, develop eye-hand coordination and improve early cognitive skills. Another activity that is very useful in this sense, with the same properties and that children like a lot is to slide a ball from the top to the bottom, maybe from a sort of tower (path). In this age group, children can spend hours playing with electronic devices that reproduce songs, lullabies, animal sounds, associated with colours and images. These games are highly educational as children learn by imitation and memorise new words and songs. The toys don’t necessarily have to be bright: children are also happy with those that talk and play at the touch of a button. Children like to listen to nursery rhymes and stories, and there are many games that contain mini devices/audio books that do this. It doesn’t have to be a substitute for the parent reading, but sometimes it can be useful to entertain the child when the parent is busy. A great classic is building blocks, which are a great educational ally for the development of fine motor skills. Another timeless game for that age group is puzzles and memos: fitting pieces together to form a picture and looking for the same pictures help children develop concentration, attention and memory. In that age group, it is also very important to work on logic, proposing games to children based on association: for example, big small, mother – child, matching an animal to its environment, etc. It is always a good idea to leave children free to play. It is always good to leave children free to express their creativity, and what better way than with paper, colours and blackboards (even the classic “magic” blackboards that are easy to erase).

The early years are the most important in the life of every person: they are the years in which the personality of the child and future adult will be formed. It is therefore very important to follow their development, providing them with the right stimuli to grow and learn their first skills, always accompanying them with closeness, love, empathy and listening. All these recommended activities should be carried out with the guidance and company of an adult, alternating with moments when children play alone to develop independence.

Let’s see how we can teach our children to respect the environment through play.

A child educated to respect the environment will be an aware and responsible adult. The best way to explain recycling to children is through play. The best way to explain recycling to children is through play. The little big lessons about nature and the environment will thus be received with great enthusiasm by the children.

Parents, not just schools, have a crucial role to play in the education of the young inhabitants of planet Earth. Educating children to respect the environment and to separate waste is essential to reduce pollution and lead an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

How can we teach our children to separate waste? Let’s find out together.

How to teach children about separate waste collection and recycling

From the earliest years of life we can teach our children environmental education, respect for nature and for the wonderful planet we live on, and the art of recycling. While we adults may have found it a little difficult to put recycling into practice, for children it is a spontaneous and simple action.

The first notions of separate waste collection and recycling are usually given to our children at school, so they are already prepared (sometimes much more than us mums) on the subject, but if the children don’t go to school because we use the homeschooling formula, don’t worry, teaching recycling to children is not difficult. Here are 4 simple steps you can take to make your children environmentally aware.

Lead by example

The first thing to do is to set an example: children grow up observing and imitating the actions of adults. A bit like when mothers complain that their children don’t read books but spend all their time glued to their smartphone screens, but then they are the first ones who never read books and are always on social networks.

Making children participate

The second thing to teach children about recycling is to make them feel grown up and responsible: our children love to do adult things, so why not involve them in such an important daily action as recycling? The winning formula is always to use imaginationand creativity. What does that mean? Children love to hear stories, so we can tell the story of how a recycled plastic bottle becomes a ball to play with or a T-shirt to wear.

Getting children to experiment

The third thingis to get them to experiment, let them discover the visual and tactile difference between different materials (plastic, glass, paper) and guide them in dividing into groups using different baskets accessible to them, perhaps even all coloured. The use of colours for children is very important. Visual memory is super important in children, which is why we can ask our children to choose a different colour to distinguish each material to be recycled (e.g. blue glass, green paper, yellow wet waste, black undifferentiated waste, orange plastic).

Creative recycling

The fourth thing to do can be creative recycling games. There are millions of games we can play to teach our children how to give new life to recycled objects. One example is the endless crafts using toilet paper rolls or plastic bottles or just plastic caps or even cardboard boxes. All it takes is a bit of manual dexterity, a lot of good humour and creativity and it’s done. Children will thus learn not only how to sort and recycle waste, but also, when possible, how to recycle themselves by creating fabulous new toys.

An easy way to introduce children to the important subject of respect for the environment.

How to create a botanical garden at home

The main objective of a home garden is to make children aware of their responsibility towards the environment, but also to make them aware of the vegetables we eat every day at the table. By cultivating the garden, young people learn about the cycle of life, the rhythm of the seasons, the importance of waiting and slow growth and the harvesting phase. Ideally, you should have 4 square metres of land in the sun at your disposal. Alternatively, you can use small pots to grow aromatic herbs at home and create a botanical garden on your balcony or terrace if you have the possibility.

Let’s now take a look at how to make a home vegetable garden, which plants to start with and much more.

Why grow a vegetable garden?

Growing a vegetable garden is a truly educational activity for children, suitable for all age groups and within everyone’s reach. Cultivating means taking care of something with perseverance and thoughtfulness, but also learning the art of patience and steering clear of impulsiveness.

Love of nature is not a one-way love, in the sense that nature reciprocates the care received by children with great small satisfactions. You don’t need to have a piece of land to grow a vegetable garden, you can use the balcony of your house and if you don’t have a balcony, don’t worry, you can use a corner or staircase inside the house. As for what you need, you need very little: pots, suitable soil, peat and clay.

You can decide to take the seedlings from the nursery or to start from the seeds; this second option will give more satisfaction to the young farmers and allows you to teach children about the life cycle of a plant and much more.

Which plants to grow with children

If you opt for vegetables, there is a special vegetable calendarso each season has its own vegetables and each vegetable has a precise time to be put in the ground and a precise time to be harvested. If space is limited and the vegetable garden is indoors, it is better to grow crops that take up little space such as basil, strawberries, chilli peppers and cherry tomatoes.

The easiest plants to growfor a home vegetable garden are:

  1. rosemary
  2. sage
  3. basil
  4. parsley
  5. thyme
  6. mint
  7. marjoram
  8. carrots
  9. raspberry
  10. cut salad
  11. redcurrant

If you have space on your balcony or terrace, you can also opt for tomatoes that grow tall, such as datterini or cherry tomatoes.

Don’t forget to indulge your child’s tastes and therefore let your child choose what he or she likes to grow by giving him or her several options to choose from. It is just as important to involve children fully in looking after the vegetable garden at home, from choosing the plants to grow to looking after the seedlings, through to decanting and harvesting. This is why it is advisable to equip the young farmers with a small watering can, a small shovel and an apron.

Remember that your children should be free to play and get dirty, so it is better to dress them in ‘old clothes’ that can get dirty, spoil and so on. If you want to make them happy, you can also sew or buy them a real farmer’s uniform with velvet dungarees, a checked shirt and a cowboy hat.

It is also advisable to use labels for the plants so that your child can remember each individual plant and also explain its life cycle and uses in the kitchen.

With the botanical garden at home, children will have to take care of it every day, as they will have to remove weeds and water constantly to encourage growth. We wish you lots of fun and a good harvest.

Why it is important to be true playmates for our children

What is the significance of play for children? Play for children is not a pastime, but a job, it is their main activity. Children momentarily abandon reality, with its rules, to enter a world of fantasy in which every wish can be fulfilled. Play is fun, exploration of the world, adventure and self-discovery, exercise of one’s individual capacities, an opportunity to learn, a way to release nervous tension, a way to discharge strong emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety and joy. It is best if the game is played with one’s parents.

For Piaget, play development correlates with mental development, stating that: “play is the primary instrument for the study of the child’s cognitive process, it is the most spontaneous habit of infantile thought. Play stimulates memory, attention, concentration, encourages the development of perceptual patterns, comparison and relational skills. A lack of playful activity therefore reflects serious deficiencies in the child’s cognitive abilities.

According to Piaget, three stages of development of playful behaviour can be identified.

Exercise games prevail in the first year of life, in the so-called ‘sense-motor’ phase during which the child, through grasping, rocking, bringing objects to its mouth, opening and closing its hands, learns to control movements and coordinate gestures. Play becomes a way for babies to get to know their environment. It is precisely in this period that the mother becomes the first playmate, in fact through the exploration of his own body and that of his mother, the child begins to understand where he ends and the mother begins, perceived until then as part of himself.

Symbolic games characterise the period between two and six years of life. They are part of the so-called “representational” phase, in which the child acquires the ability to represent a non-actual situation through gestures or objects. The capacity for imagination and imitation is therefore developed. In fact, children reproduce experiences that they have seen but not yet experienced directly. For example, children imitate the behaviour of adults, play at being mum or dad by wearing their clothes, or relive emotions experienced with their reference figures.

Finally, games with rules emerge between the ages of seven and eleven, in the so-called social phase, characterised by a greater adherence to reality. Games become group games with rules, allowing the child to experience being with others through structured games.

It is evident how much playing with parents is, for the child, an opportunity to build bonds of intimacy with the people who are most important to him. In fact, it is easy to see the enthusiasm with which children react to their parents’ willingness to play with them, they are very happy about it and this allows them to strengthen their sense of security and protection.

The ability of parents to play with their children is certainly a good indicator of family harmony and provides the children with a feeling of psychological wellbeing, as well as being the basic condition for developing good play skills. On the contrary, the absence of play in a child’s life is often seen as a sign of discomfort or inner malaise that should be investigated and observed professionally.

Nowadays it often happens that, because of pressing commitments, there is a risk of devoting little time to play with one’s children. It is instead essential to recover space and time for play because it is mainly through play that the deepest communication between adults and children takes place. You don’t need expensive or elaborate toys, just simple objects that stimulate the child’s natural imagination and allow you to create, to learn, to imitate, to learn to be together, to face fears, to give voice to desires, to learn to manage emotions.