Outdoor Play: Essential Experience in Early Years

Outdoor play, as simple an activity as it appears to be, is becoming less and less prominent in todays culture. With advances in technology and the addictive nature of TV, video games and the Internet, today’s children are going outside to run and play much less. However, technology is not the only source of blame. Factors like increased formal instructional schooling; busy schedules and parental fear of harm to their children also contribute to decreased outdoor play. This change in young children’s activity levels can be extremely unfavourable to their physical and emotional development, and it has been found that “children who learn to enjoy the outdoors have a much higher likelihood of becoming adults who enjoy hiking, gardening, jogging, bicycling, mountain climbing, or other outdoor endeavours” (see source at bottom for quote details, taken from website which excerpted from Play, Development and Early Education by Johnson, Christie and Wardle). Basically children need to be allowed and encouraged to play outside not only to practice important developmental skills as children, but also to acquire healthy lifestyle choices in adulthood.

So here it goes…obvious (or maybe not so obvious) reasons to encourage outdoor play:

  • Allowing children to be children: first and foremost, kids should be given the opportunity to act their age. In our current fast paced society school-aged children are often under a lot more pressure than in previous generation. Therefore, they should be afforded the opportunity to fulfill basic childhood needs of play! It really is that simple.
  • Risk-taking: some parents struggle with letting their children go outside and just play because they are concerned they will get hurt or be put in danger. Although this concern comes from a place of love and caring it is one that needs to be put aside. Childhood risk-taking is awesome! It is not only awesome, it is important. Risk-taking play, (within reason of course), is basically the informal childhood version of the scientific method. For those of you who don’t already know, the scientific method is the process of “Asking a Question”, “Doing Background Research”, “Constructing a Hypothesis”, “Testing your Hypothesis”, “Analyzing Your Results”, and “Making Adjusts for Next Time”. So, when children take risks in their play, they are basically learning about themselves and their limits within the environment through a scientific method of play. For example, a child new to the playground is attracted to the shiny red slide. They ask themselves the question; I wonder how fast I can go down that slide. They decide that if they sit with their bottom on the slide they can go pretty fast. They test this hypothesis by doing just that. They get to the bottom of the slid, realize they didn’t go quite as fast as they wanted and go back to the top of the slide. This time they try sitting flat with their back touching the slide to see if they go faster, and so on! In sum, although this process doesn’t seem like much it is really important, and as long as children are supervised so that they don’t take risks that are too much, it is a great aspect of outdoor play.
  • Gross Motor Development: obviously running, jumping, climbing, swinging, and all those other fun things that children do outdoors are essential to their physical, in particular, gross motor development. This means they are practicing the skills involved in moving various part of their body in smooth, intentional ways. The can practice hand-eye coordination and also strengthen their cardiovascular system as well.
  • Inquiry: Reggio Emilia education (the approach we use at Parkland Players) is centred on inquiry-based learning. This means that education is inspired by children’s interests, and where better to find something interesting than in the great outdoors? Outdoor play is great for sparking imagination in children and directing their learning.
  • Social Development: the last reason we will discuss, although not the last reason that exists is the role of social development. Outdoor play, like many other forms of play provides children with the opportunity to learn and practice basic social skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, compromise, taking turns, and simple communication.

At Parkland Players we take children outside to play at least once daily. We strive to incorporate it in our programs and to give children the opportunity to experience their environment and learn on their own.

Source: http://www.communityplaythings.co.uk/learning-library/articles/outdoor-play-for-children


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