The importance of Outdoor Experiences and Play-Based Opportunities for Early Learners
With childhood obesity at an all-time high and children receiving labels long before being given a chance to develop, we have to ask ourselves as parents and educators, how did we get here? What has changed in our teaching and parenting that might contribute to these very real issues our young children face today?
I believe the biggest causes are increased focus on academic pressure, sitting still and being quiet, along with limiting children’s ability to take healthy risks through play. Maria Montessori once said, “play is the work of the child.” As educators, we should provide an environment for play, discovery and exploration. We should provide young children opportunities that allow for free thinking, self-correction, collaboration, mobility, inquiry, sensorial exploration, and the ability to fail and learn to recover from that failure. We should offer opportunities for even the youngest children to get outdoors and take healthy risks. Children should be allowed opportunities to jump off rocks, balance on beams, roll down hills, play with sticks, climb trees, dig in the dirt, squeeze mud through their fingers and toes, feel the rain on their cheeks, and know that they will not be endlessly limited by adults who fear the inevitable scrape knee or bump on the head.
Large motor outdoor experiences develop a young child’s vestibular balance. Sensory deficit diagnoses are at an all-time high; I believe this is greatly influenced by the decreased outside playtime and limitations educators and parents have implemented, causing our young children to become extremely sedentary. Parents and educators alike have gradually forgotten that young children learn best through play. When we limit their play, be it indoors or out, we are limiting our youngest learners from achieving an amazing sense of self.
Childhood is about feeling the wind on their face, so let them run and get the exercise they need. It is about building social relationships, so assist them in talking through their conflicts, rather than working each conflict out for them. Childhood is about engineering, so let them carry big logs and build that fort. It’s about physics, so let them throw the leaves or rocks and watch them fall. It’s about science, so let them mix water and dirt and make observations. It’s about art, so give them the materials to create without the worry of making a mess. Childhood is about achievements and failures, so give them opportunities to experience both. Childhood is about family, so be present in the moment. Childhood is about giggles and laughter, so let them learn the skills needed through play!
Assistant Director, Little Georgies
Infant and Early Learning Program
St. George’s Independent School