My Take on Outdoor Play
I would not have a complete understanding of early childhood if I did not include the outdoors in education. Playing outside is crucial in a child’s development as it promotes physical activity and healthy habits.
Let’s cover the basics: childhood obesity is a big concern in the United States. Part of combating that issue is through changing how we eat, but the other factor is how often we exercise. It’s great to have opportunities for recess on the playground, but I think there’s another side of outdoor play that is neglected.
The woods. I will admit that I love the outdoors. I grew up in a family that loved camping…well excluding my mother as she hates bugs. It was part of our family culture to spend time together outdoors with tents and going fishing. I think that that is something that every child needs to be able to experience.
Outdoors for Health
Healing the body includes healing the mind. And being outdoors (as in being around natural elements) contributes to peaceful reflection and healing. When children have an overall positive body concept and are mentally at peace, they are more likely to take care of their bodies.
One of my favorite teaching experiences was at the Apple Orchard School in Brookline, Massachusetts.
I had taught before but what was unique about this school was the fact that they spent majority of the day outside. It is located on a farm and so they were able to feed and take care of farm animals, have circle time in the barn and then spend majority of the day on a hike.
During those times, they were taught resilience, patience and compassion.
When you give children the true outdoors, you are giving them a break from the often overstimulating world of bright colors and hyperactivity. Being outdoors is a time for an often calmer play with the basics.
In the classroom, I try and include as many natural elements as possible. I avoid too many bright colors and toys so that children can maintain focus. There’s nothing entirely wrong with having lots of toys in the classroom, but when you have a group of children with different personalities and different needs, having a neutral classroom with calming elements in there can help offset chaos and any overwhelm.
This is especially the case for a lot of city schools that may not have access to the open woods. You can still create that “feeling” of being surrounded by natural elements with your décor and materials used in the classroom. The best part is: much of what you’d need just requires a trip to the woods!
The sensory bin, for example is a great area to have a calming natural experience. Below is an example of water beads, rocks, water, flowers and toy frogs to recreate a pond.
You can include branches and leaves for children to examine and interact with all throughout the classroom.
But even still, actually playing outdoors is a worthy investment into your child’s experience and wholeness. If possible, I always encourage schools to use field trip time for a day camping trip or for fishing. You might even encourage something on the weekend so that parents are available to come!
I have seen it where children who are displaying aggressive or anxious behavior change into a calmer state when they are able to go for a walk or play in the water. Again, I’d likely attribute this to the less intense stimulation and more focused presence of nature.
I would also say that an added bonus aside from the natural visuals would have to be the natural sounds! What can you hear? Crickets? The wind blowing? Grasshoppers? When there’s a focus on what you can hear outdoors you’d be surprised at what you might not have noticed otherwise. Again, there’s also an alternative for the city folks…YouTube has all sorts of outdoor sounds that you can use for listening activities.
If we focused more on true play outdoors, I am positive that many of our goals in early childhood wholeness would be achieved. An excellent book that I’d highly recommend for natural early learning would have to be Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
Until then…keep playing!