If you should ask me – What do you remember about your childhood? – I would answer: playing outdoors. I remember, like yesterday, creating a little hide-out under a group of tall bushes. I would spend hours with my friends gathering twigs and rocks to make those bushes into a secret hide-out.
Children have a natural desire to play outside.
Think about it. The young child is a sensory being processing life through the senses. Playing outside nourishes the senses naturally.
I have the joy of volunteering at a Waldorf-inspired “forest” Kindergarten. We spend 90% of the day outside. Rain or shine. In the short time I have been here – I am convinced. This is what children need. I have watched and I see the benefits. Here are a few. . .
It improves academic achievement. The nurturing of the senses is the foundation of cognitive development. The outdoors provides a direct experience with ideas such lifecycle, weather, weight and more. Research has shown children who are given plenty of time outdoors score higher on standardized testing in math, reading and writing. It takes learning to a multi-sensory level – touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. It is the ultimate laboratory for testing theories and ideas. At the “forest” kindergarten the sand pit becomes an experiment of heavy and light, wet and dry, in and out. Water is added to a bucket of sand. Immediately the chirping of sensory based observation arises. “Water makes the sand heavier.” “Dry sand will not clump!”
It improves creativity. The raw materials of nature ignite the creativity of children. Loose parts in the outdoor space provide endless opportunities for creativity, inventions, experiments, and resourcefulness. Studies have shown that children engage in more creative forms of play when outside. It is inquiry-based learning in a natural setting. But more than that – it offers up a blank canvas of natural materials – willing to become anything. This is the work of the frontal lobes. This is the future of higher order thinking. Creativity is the ticket. Nature is the doorway.
It increases Appreciation & Respect for Nature. Exposure to the natural world builds a sense of wonder for the beauty of life. Learning outside gives children the opportunity to witness the interdependence of animals, plants and humans. Studies have shown a 27% increase in science testing scores with plenty of time outside. Today a little girl at this forest school picked up a piece of bark for the making of a “fairy house.” Underneath were snails and spiders. Lots of them. She gingerly held the piece of bark and told me, “The fairies love snails and spiders.” These creatures were welcomed.
It improves health and Well-Being. Outdoor play helps to form a life long health disposition. Outdoor play encourages the development of active movement. For healthy reflex development children need spaces to move both up and down and to explore their own capacities to move. I am amazed at how much the children run and jump and play. A rich outdoor space provides endless potential for developing the complex neutral pathways built only in the rigor of healthy play.
It improves Behavior and Social Interactions. Ample time outside has proven to reduce challenging behaviors. Interestingly, the more children are given time outside the less challenging behaviors occur. Children are better able to cooperate and problem solve social conflicts. Additionally, time outside simply helps to reduce stress. It is no mistake the majority of “relaxing” videos on Youtube have included nature sounds. It is stunning to watch children negotiate and problem solve as the play unfold. Honestly, I have never seen such healthy social/emotional support as nature supplies. Just the other day – I watched as the children gathered around a little pond of fishes. The delight and wonder of life itself captivated the children.
It seems to be how it goes in the outdoors.
One of the things I am committed to doing as a business owner is contribute money towards innovative and progressive practices in early childhood education.
Recently, Fairy Dust Teaching funded a rock maze.