Saturday, 26 September 2009

Walkodiles

This post has moved to a new location
http://creativestarlearning.co.uk/early-years-outdoors/walkodiles/

15 comments:

mad said...

i've looked at these things from all angles, and whichever way up i end, i have to confess i hate them. no, be honest, i loathe them.

they're unattractive, shackling... Tracey made her own version which involved ribbons and bells, which (apart from being cheaper!) was much more 'kid friendly' and didn't involve clipping them on, but they wanted to hold the ribbons. i've often wondered what happens if one of the kids falls over - do the rest go down like ninepins? may as well put a collar and lead on them.

CreativeSTAR said...

Apparently, in accordance with basic laws of physics, it's nigh on impossible for a child to fall and drag the rest down... that was one of my immediate thoughts too.

I think Walkodiles do bring strong opinions out of folk. Those who live and breathe the outdoor ethic would not normally choose to use these. But some nurseries have parents and staff who are SO fearful that this may be the only option initially to provide the reassurance. It's interesting talking to participants on courses about this.

Thanks for chipping in so soon...it's great to have some comments to get things going...anyone else?

Terri Harrison said...

I also don't like idea of clipping children to a metal frame to take them out for lots of reasons. Firstly, this is in response to adults' fears more than children's safety. The problem of fear is something that needs to be tackled properly through education. Walkodliles, it seems to me, avoid the issue rather than address it. Secondly, children need to learn to risk assess and keep themselves safe. This takes away the need to teach children how to walk safely beside a road.
I could go on for ages, but one last thing that I must say is that I think it 'dehumanises' children. I think no teacher would ever want a child to feel like a shackled animal that can not be trusted to walk freely and independently. I think it gives children a very negative message about how we view them.
I appreciate that walkodiles might mean more children get out who otherwise might not... but at what cost? I would like to see more opportunities for teachers to receive the training that gives them the confidence to take children out regularly and enjoy with their classes the benefits of learning to keep safe and make the most out outdoor spaces.

CreativeSTAR said...

A very eloquent case, Terri! Phew!

I have messaged quite a few people for their thoughts and some have responded via Twitter or Facebook. Here's a comment from Cliff Dennet:

"Re: Walkodiles

I think it's no less or more innocuous than children in push chairs or on reigns - why not? and it looks like it might be fun for the kids as well - I can totally understand why they would find it fun to be connected together, and sharing something. If it makes for safer passage along city streets, then great as well.

I wonder though whether it would help get more kids outdoors? The assumption presumably is that if the kids could get to where they are going in a safer manner then more kids would get outdoors. I don't really buy that. I'm guessing the problem of schools not taking kids out enough is more of a resource issue than anything else (not enough staff, money, time, inclination etc). But if this does, so much the better and if it doesn't it still seems a fun, harmless way for kids to move themselves around a little safer.

As regards kids at home, this doesn't seem like it would get them out more. Unless it somehow incorporated a gaming element where kids could compete against each other, whatever that may be."

CreativeSTAR said...

Joyce MacFarlane's thoughts:

'I don't have a problem with walkodiles if little children get out of the class more. Health and safety has become such an excuse/ deterrant and I think it's great that people are trying to come up with ways to get around problems. I can't see any other use for them other than getting kids out of class. I think my wee girl wouldn't like it, but it does have a certain novelty value for kids.
The tripping thing wouldn't concern me, as the one who trips will be instantly picked up and carried along in the train.

I must admit though, I like the packable and cheaper ribbons and bells version, but not everyone can make a creative thing quickly, and you would also have more of a tripping/ tangling problem, as the walkodile seems pretty robust.
The real problem is the Nanny state that we live in, where people frown at kids picking apples, climbing trees and eating freshly picked raspberries without washing them."

CreativeSTAR said...

Andrew Johnson said:

"I have to say I would be against the idea. I personally think at the age of 4 children should be gaining independence and beginning understand the importance of road safety and following instructions without being strapped into a device. The message that the Walkodile gives to a child is that their safety is solely someone elses responsibility. Interestingly, I think if headteachers insist their staff use them to take children out then many will actually take child outdoors less and it will actually have the reverse impact.

I hope this helps :)"

bigred said...

“Hate”

“Loathe”

It’s amazing the stance someone can take against something a teacher created to prevent a child being killed or seriously injured.

“Shackling” – I suppose in your world a car seat belt is a shackle.

“De-humanising” – have you asked children who use it if they feel de-humanised? Or asked their parents?

There is nothing more important to a parent than the safety of their child.

“Made of metal” ??? !!!!!

The only people who seem to have a problem with Walkodile are those that have never used it. You should really get informed about something before spouting forth.

Walkodile means more, safer and better walks.

Then again, maybe you are right and all these people who actually use Walkodile are wrong…

“The safest & best way to take children for walks.” (Inverallochy Primary School)

“More... peace of mind, trips, teamwork & communication. We love our Walkodiles®.” (London Road Playgrp)

“Helps children build confidence in themselves & staff enjoy a less stressful walk!” (Woody’s Day Nursery)

“The children are kept safe in a fun & exciting way.” (Broomhill Nursery)

“More relaxed walks and able to focus more on the outing rather than issues of behaviour.” (Meethill Primary School)

“Staff interact better with the children while enjoying the walk, without it being too stressful.” (Greenhaw Primary School)

“Can focus on teaching instead of head-counting.” (Kirkliston Nursery School)

“Never had so much attention from children. They all stop and listen at the same time.”
(Port Erroll Primary School)

“Safe method of walking in the community & reassurance for staff that no-one can run off.” (Milne’s Primary School)

“Makes children more independent, more responsible & aware of their own safety.” (Central Primary School)

“Can focus on teaching instead of counting heads.” (Kirkliston Nursery School)

“Walkodile® makes the journey safer, more enjoyable & more educational.” (Supertots Pre-School)

“Improved safety, all walking at same pace in the same direction!” (Auchenblae Pre-school Group)

“Peace of mind for staff knowing no-one can break free & wander near the road.” (Peterhead Playgroup)

“Children are more relaxed, talking & looking round the community. Brilliant.” (Wisbech St Mary Playgroup)

“We use our Walkodiles® twice a week & cannot imagine life without them.” (Dufftown Pre-school)

“The children have the chance to be independent & are kept safe while doing so.” (Mintlaw Under 5’s Group)

CreativeSTAR said...

Thanks so much for all the comments: the good, bad and the ugly!

It did occur to me that a Walkodile is a tool. And as the saying goes...a tool is only as good or as bad as the person who uses it.

In other words, it won't make decent teachers bad or bad teachers decent. A savvy teacher who uses a walkodile would/will/is creative enough to bring out the best...problem solving and independence if children are encouraged to work out how to put the walkodile together and to attach themselves to it. The road safety can be developed. Children can be rotated in and out of a walkodile. The tool has potential for productive fun.

Likewise in the hands of a teacher who lacks withitness it will be a tool to control children and instill fear. Ultimately it's about the teacher not the tool.

In the same light, I've seen many teachers on trips lack the skills to make it a positive event. Negativity, warnings and fear radiate from all orifices. Walkodiles won't change teacher's behaviour.

Finally to quote Jenny Moseley..."I've no answers, only ideas"

...and more ideas are always welcome!

CreativeSTAR said...

Here's some more thoughts from my Facebook notes:

Steve Alker
"Blimy Juliet. This thing looks like the health and safety version of manacles and chains - yes! A chain gang.

Safety obsessed parents and authorities who can’t do statistics by do carry out a hazard assessments (And usually get it wrong) must love the contraption.

What happens if they wish to express some individualism? And if this plastic multi-toddler straight jacket keeps them all together at a safe distance from each other and the road, they learn next to nothing about safety and even less about doing a task (Keeping in a crocodile) with their own free will because they recognise risk and learn to avoid it.

Mind you, I’m not a very good example with kids being strapped into things. When Cameron and Gabby were about 3 and 5 I used to stick them in the back seat of the Ferrari (Mondial Quattro Valvole Cabriolet, one of their rare family cars) and blast them around the Sussex lanes with the lid down. Gabby loved it but I don’t think that she’d have lasted more than 5 minutes."


Audra Guy:
"Oh my god - my gut reaction is I hate this - what if a kid wants to look at a bug on the pavement - do they pull the other kids over with them or just miss out by being dragged ahead - it is that on the spot learning that can be fun and useful?! Kids need to understand danger, we need to "get over it and just do it!! What happened to holding hands and following in line!? Holding hands is caring and taking responsibility for your friend, not some unknown taking control for you! It is like the nets around trampolines - it is a right of passage is to fall off a trampoline or get your leg stuck in the springs! (Also takes away parent responsibility for ensuring safe use of trampoline and giving encouragement!) Am I a cruel uncaring parent? Or is pain and danger, and learning from it, about it, part of life? I fear when my son goes to the park independantly, but he needs these skills!

However, having said all this, if this is what it takes to get kids outside then lets use it!!!!!"

Mark Whitcombe:
I've got limited experience 'in the field' with children of the age this tool is designed for, but I don't think I'd use one in the field. I want 'mud between the toes' and direct experience with the world around them.
For one point, they'd be useless or even dangerous in our snowy and icy Canadian winters.
On the other hand, I can see in an urban setting, especially one with high traffic (automobile or pedestrian), that this could be very useful, especially with a portion of the class who's more focused/limited energies would ease some of the hassles of transportation.
I do frequently enough see very young students being led around downtown Toronto holding on to a rope. That's always made sense to me. I've always thought "My, that teacher's got things well in hand. I'd like my daughters to be with that teacher!"

Mark Fraser
"Hi Juliet- doing fine thank you very much and hope your doing well- as well. Its the first time I have seen or heard walkodiles -cute name. If your in a place where you need to keep kids together it certainly looks very effective although exploration is so very important so I am kind of on the fence about them. For a school outing etc of very young kids I think they would be great for the march from a to b etc but would have to admit a child running aorund getting muddy chasing bugs etc is important so I would restrict the use to "urban walks" where there is a danger of cars etc that would be a great benifit I suppose.

All the best!

Mark"

CreativeSTAR said...

And the comments keep coming:

Audrey Sullivan:
"Good morning Juliet ~ my daughter Skye piped in on this one. She is teacher and department head of the infant/toddler program for a Montessori school and specializes in childhood development. She didn't surprise me with her very strong opinion. As for me... I miss the old days when people didn't require gadgets to raise children. We didn't have helmets, knee pads, leashes...we just played, got hurt, brushed it off and survived!"

Dave Magpiong:
"Not sure how I feel about this. While I understand/respect the safety implications of it, there seem to be many negatives - or at least potential problems -with it. I usually have issues with children wearing harnesses or leashes for a multitude of pragmatic and developmental reasons."

Kathy 'Rowan' Yates:
Interesting contraption. On a lighter note, do you really need this for the Robertson family Juliet? Thought Jo was a little past the need for road side supervision?! :)

Steve Alker:
"The more I think about this the more I’m against it.

Whether it is fish in a shoal or in a school (A school is more polarized than a shoal) or birds in a flock or deer in a herd, the main motivation or doing things together in the animal kingdom is gained through evolutionary advantage.

The size of a shoal, for example, scares off certain predators, some fish attack en-mass (As do antelopes) and the job of foraging is made easier as the presence of food in one place can be conveyed right across the shoal.

This only works for the expected predators and if the unexpected turn up, they quickly realize that they’ve stumbled into an “Eat all you like for £5 restaurant.

A darker reason for herding or shoaling or flocking is that the weakest members tend towards the outside of the shoal and are thus picked off by the indigenous predators leaving the strong to breed.

If that were to be mirrored in the Walkodile, the risks would be wiping out 6 kids at a go through one single m..."

Di Blackmore:
"I agree with Cliff and Joyce in that it is great to think that a piece of kit might break down an actual or perceived barrier to outdoor fun for small children. However - there is a quote which has been coming to mind more and more recently
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of "the Little Prince"). I feel it applies here in that as GfL professionals we try to induce the longing but sometimes the unexpected and unwanted side effects are these pieces of kit turn up which seem to us superfluous and eccentric and missing the point; Maybe they are just somebody else's way of building a boat. We maybe shouldn't castigate them for their methods too much, as it is tricky to be all things to all people. And we should take a chill pill, although it is always hard to look with equanimity at money spent on things other than opportunities for children to come into contact with actual muck and magic."

beth said...

We use one at our school and all I can say is Walkodile works on every level. Its just a much better outing. Our teaching is better because the atmosphere it creates is more condusive to learning and the pupils do learn more. Plus they think its great fun. Maybe as someone said its somethign that needs to be tried first. We had people here that were sceptical at first but now everyone agrees its brilliant.

Green Grower said...

As Mad mentioned, I love my ribbons and bells version of this (Green Grower, also known as Tracey here - stole the idea from Claire Warden at Mindstretchers, by the way),
I think a ribbon version does work, but even then I wouldn't want to HAVE to use it in every situation, and it does have the advantage of being easy to disengage from quickly. Looking at it, I was thinking of the accident last week when a car hit a group of kids who were on a walk with their teacher. If they'd all been chained to this, surely they'd have all been mown down with no chance of escape.

I can see that some staff might be more willing to take kids out if they have one of these - but I suspect that it's more about the peace of mind of the staff than anything else. Do they actually get unhooked at any stage on these walks that are being described, I wonder?

I imagine it must be quite time consuming to put on which might actually reduce time outside. It also looks as if adults will have to help kids attach themselves and that individual kids will then have pretty much no opportunity to stop and look at something without causing a pile up.

What worries me most about the Walkodile is that I can see it becoming compulsory.

The quote from Mintlaw Under 5's is interesting.
“The children have the chance to be independent & are kept safe while doing so.”

Independent?!

CreativeSTAR said...

Hello Everyone

In my internet absence, the Walkodiles discussion has continued. The outres group have taken up the topic and some interesting points made:

Bill Krouwel:
"Whilst sympathising with the impulse that led to their creation, I'm a tad saddened by the thought that that such things as walkodiles are seen as necessary. Having just come from lecturing on the research spectrum to undergraduates, though, I am encouraged that the world we have constructed - and which makes these things desirable - is capable of reconstruction in other - maybe even better - ways...provided we don't just accept that the way that things currently are is the way they will always be.
...as to linking WALKODILE® to the idea of a comfort zone, I have to say that on my viewing of the promotional video, I was reminded of chain-gangs as much as anything else. This is quite possibly due to recent late-night DVD watchings of "Amazing Grace" and "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" - but even so, that's the picture that popped into my head."


Chris Reed:
"I doing some movement and play work with a boy with Dyspraxia at the moment.
As part of my prep, and as an interested new dad, i reviewed the latest on movement
and embodiment in early years development. Sensation, movement and the
propriocentric sense is the foundation of neurological development in the brain stem and
mid brain and thus influential on later 'higher' developments in the cerebullum.
Like babies can be calmed by swaddling, and new evidence of autism, like dyspaxia a
'spectrum disorder', has roots in sensory overload, I can see how this could reduce stress
for some kids. My baby has recently been up a mountain, (Great Mell Fell) and loves open
spaces now. But early experience of big open spaces showed us she became anxious and
overloaed. This anxiety was reduced by crouching behind her and gently squeezing her
and holding her. Dr. Temple Grandin (www.templegrandin.com/templehome.html) is
autistic but invented a 'squeeze machine' to help her manage her autism.

This has obvious benefits to directly control children, but i can see other effects.
1 Children on the spectrum, and children with hyperactivity disorders, and dyspaxic
children (all related somewhere) would benefit from being contained physically. The boy i
am working with is learning to dance with me, because his mum says the emphasis on
'free play' in schools makes him worried and makes him regress. The repeated form of
dance, will we hope, help him become more contained.
2 Whilst early propriocentric developments occur below the 4-7 age range, I think some
children could learn, in an embodied sense, to walk alongside other children by being
attached to a walkodile. New skills are enhanced by repetition and become normalised
over time.
3 As a child i had 'reins', a sort of harness about my chest to control and support me. My
baby loves her reins, and squeals with delight when we put them on her, i presume
because they make her feel secure. This could work the same way.

I do think the whole idea of the 'Walkodile©' is a bit sad, but so are litigation and criminal
record checks, we live in a messed up world.

I can however see some definite benefits in terms of containing children who need
physical containment, and helping small bodies learn to walk in a line."

CreativeSTAR said...

Steve Alker:
"My initial reaction was typical, so you’ve probably got a job to get on with. I answered the FaceBook entry with a rather sarcastic comment about it being a Health and Safety version of a chain gang, to satisfy parents who don’t understand risk and who want 100% safety at all times regardless of it not being possible.

Next I actually saw one being used in Horsham - I still thought that it looked to be unnecessarily restrictive but I had to admit that it wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. Then I went on to read further about the Walkodile and given the chance, I came round to seeing that there just might be some value in it after all. I’m probably hard to please in this respect having been schooled in running up and down mountains without anyone fussing over me when I was about 5. And my father was chairman of Kendal Mountain Rescue Team and had no time for the cotton wool approach.

That said, I’ve always prided myself on listening to the debate about something and not sticking to an initial judgement if other have changed my mind.

The point behind that ramble is that I suppose that I am a little unusual in not taking fixed positions about many things and certainly not taking first impressions as my view of the truth.

That’s the issue which comes over most to me – your website just doesn’t convey enough benefits about the Walkodile, it bangs on about its features. It doesn’t mention how it can facilitate adventure, enquiry and inquisitiveness but goes on in the manner of a local government health and safety officer wanting to avoid all possible risks but to do so in as restrictive a way as possible.

From the previous blogs I know that I am not alone in my first impressions, and neither will be your intended customers, but they are unlikely to give it the benefit of the doubt and move on from first impression...."

CreativeSTAR said...

Joanne Chapman:
"I am not so sure that the walkodile represents a specific fear of the outdoors, so much as fear in general and the way that the adults that work with children typically do so.

This product is designed for use by the 3-7 set. In many schools in this country kids of this age are instructed in school to go EVERYWHERE in lines. The first thing kids are told if they are on their way to the bathroom, the lunchroom, out to recess, is get into a line. Walk through many elementary schools and between classes you see all of the children walking past each other in single file.

This sort of social control is quite typical. So it is natural that teachers who have been trained in this model would seek to keep kids in a line while they are traveling outside. Not because the outdoors is so scary (though it does contain dangers not present in the school setting), but because they are traveling. The outdoors is not terribly conducive to staying in lines, and offer many fun distractions that can have 4-5 year olds running off in all directions. Thus the walkodile.

There are other ways: when I was in charge of kids of this age group, I quickly taught them to "count off" and had them count off repeatedly for my sanity. The fact remains that teachers are hopelessly outnumbered, and a teacher that would be comfortable letting 2-3 of her own kids "run free" might feel very different about the dozen or so she has in her care."

Chris Reed:
"i can agree with concerns about this being used for 'outdoor education' and appearing in
centres when out walking with children.
But mostly the site talks about 'outings' and the image of kids walking down a street makes
a lot of sense to me. Making walking in line a game, so being controlled is fun and a
reward, rather than stepping out of line getting a chastisement, makes sense
developmentally.
Also some kids with social anxieties and developmental delays or disorders could see real
benefits, if this was used as a means of getting them on to outings which might normally
frighten them.

I work in health and social care, with families and i doubt many people working with
children and families in early learning or pre-school would want this on an outdoor course.

I am also aware that decades of outdoor ed, seeing little ones belaying etc means i have to
be careful with what i suggest when co-working with people have not had much experience
of working with kids outside a tight indoor setting."