During this time of quarantine, you might start thinking you’re running out of educational activities for your children. However, remember your outdoor space offers a world of learning experiences your children will enjoy.
Children are instinctively drawn to playing outdoors, and through these experiences, develop a profound connection with nature. Unfortunately, many young children today aren’t afforded these same opportunities due to a variety of reasons: many families don’t have the time or space to allow children opportunities to play outside, parents are fearful of letting their children play outside unattended, and busy schedules of both parents and children don’t allow for supervised outdoor play.
The most prevailing threat that impacts outdoor play today is the ever-growing age of technology and access to it being given to children as young as infants. The number of hours young children are spending on screens (tablets, smartphones and television) has increased significantly. There is extensive research indicating children are spending less time playing outdoors and more time in front of the screen which is creating new deficits in development. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, says “children who play outside are less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns.”
While playing, children use and develop their imagination as they interact with both natural and open-ended materials throughout the outdoor learning environments. Children use metal bowls to mix dirt, water and a handful of pebbles to create the most delicious dish. Wearing rain boots, they pull the water hose over to the mud pit where they have created a retaining wall and fill it with water to test it. Boxes and crates become forts and castles. Children wrap the fabric around themselves and hold it together with clothespins and hair ties to make their outfits and costumes. They line up wooden planks, PVC pipes and use boxes to create inclines for yards of ramps and make predictions of who will win the race as they roll wooden balls down the ramps.
Throughout the year, children have been participating in growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. They learn how to water, tend and harvest the gardens. Teachers incorporate garden-grown food into cooking lessons for the children. Teachers extend these experiences by engaging children in the Culinary Health Education Program (CHEF) lessons, which provide them with opportunities to cut up their own veggies and follow a recipe to prepare a healthy snack. These experiences help children understand the connection between what they eat and their wellness. Perhaps you and your family can start a homegrown garden in your very own back yard.
When children freely play outside in the outdoor learning environments, they learn to work together and solve problems. They develop perseverance, communication and negotiation skills. The outdoor learning environments provide natural opportunities for children to explore their abilities and take risks. At times, these experiences lead to trips, falls, minor cuts and bruises; however, even these experiences are an important part of development. Learning how to take calculated risks and respond to trips and falls, helps children build resiliency, independence and self-confidence.
Your backyard is another learning environment that will help with your child’s learning and development. Take the time to look around and see the many opportunities your child has to learn about insects, gardens, or simply building his or her own structures. The benefits of your children being outdoors and learning are endless. Be sure to visit our Pre-K 4 SA Online Resources page for weekly educational ideas and activities.
Written by: Sandy Weser, director, North Education Center