I want you to take a moment to close your eyes and think of a vivid memory/event you have of your childhood.
Now when you recall this memory, did it take place in an outdoor setting? Were you running through the wildflowers chasing after butterflies, climbing rocks and exploring the dark places in the woods, lying in the snow making snow angels, dipping your toes in the cool babbling stream, sitting at a campfire roasting marshmallows while the fireflies twinkled around you?
With the Summer season at hand and Fall approaching, now is an amazing time to provide our children with the opportunity to be OUTSIDE and PLAY. I stress both outside and play because research is finding that both are not being stressed enough in our children’s lives. With focus being placed on achievements and academic advancements, play is starting to be placed on the back-burner when in fact play is the mechanism in which our children create the skills that will help them advance not only academically but also emotionally, physically, and socially. Now when you throw in nature with that play, you just created the best learning environment ever for a child. On the other hand, when we separate a child from nature and movement we are depriving our children of sensory experiences that can lead to sensory disorganization often exhibited as negative behaviors such as, unable to sit (fidgeting) and/or focus, rough play, hitting, etc.
DEVELOPMENTAL GAINS THROUGH OUTDOOR PLAY:
- Balance and Coordination (walking on grass; walking across a log)
- Total Body Strengthening (climbing rocks and trees)
- Problem Solving and Decision Making (increase awareness of personal limitations)
- Building Math Skills (comparing sizes; sorting and classifying; counting)
- Building Science Skills (cause & effect- add water to dirt = mud; gravity; states of matter- ice melts in the sun/heat)
- Language Development
- Prewriting Skills (pouring water with cup, digging dirt)
- Spatial Awareness (where we are in space, in relations to something else)
- Social and Coping Skills
We need to allow our children the opportunity to play, create, investigate and explore the great outdoors. We need to remember what it’s like to be a kid again, when the world was our playground. So let’s awaken the child within us and start rolling down hills, spinning in circles just for fun, climb trees, swing from branches, wade through the mud puddles, catch lizards and frogs, watch the clouds go by in their animal shapes, and lay outside and listen to the evening songs of the crickets while counting starts with our kids. Let’s awaken our senses to the treasures we have at hand and allow our children to experience the wonders of the world around them.
Here are a few things to help guide the child along the way:
EXAMPLES OF HELPING CHILD TO CREATE MEANING TO THEIR SENSES:
- TOUCH: “Do you feel the cold water on your feet?” “Feel the breeze brushing across your face?”
- SIGHT: “Do you see the bird in the tree?” “Oh look, there is a ladybug on the flower!”
- SMELL: “Would you like to smell the flower? Mmmm, it smells so sweet.”
- TASTE: “I think you like the watermelon. Ooh, is it juicy and sweet?”
- SOUND: “Do you hear the birds singing? They go tweet, tweet, tweet.”
- Using words such as cold, hot, bumpy, smooth, shiny, bright, dump, scoop, splash in the context of experiences during outdoor play will help solidify the meaning of these words in a child’s mind.
Enjoying the world around them not only broadens our children’s senses and abilities, it creates a feeling of being part of a community; a bigger picture. They have an opportunity to understand the vastness of our world and the role each of us plays in it. By using the natural resources around us, we can begin to instill a sense of independence, achievement, community and understanding that greatly increases their chance at a successful future. Go outside. Play. Explore. Encourage curiosity. Allow them to be challenged. What was once considered a natural part of childhood is being lost on our youth. They deserve a knowledge and understanding of the world around them; including the emotional, physical and social skills that come with that knowledge.