Within the childhood education and development fields, the principle that free play is one of the best methods whereby children learn and develop is widely accepted. Free play occurs most spontaneously in outdoor settings where little adult supervision is required. It is important that children have the opportunity during the day to experience spontaneous play where they can utilize their creative potential and safely explore the world around them. During outdoor play, children have the freedom to yell and run, and they are encouraged be more enthusiastic and energetic. Outdoor play allows children to experience the world in which they live through sounds, textures, smells, and hands-on interaction. Research indicates that playing outdoors can enhance both the psychological and emotional well-being of children.
Children reap many benefits from outdoor play. Not only do they expend energy and exercise their bodies, but they also learn, grow and develop through outdoor play. Outdoor play is essential to motor skill development in children. During outdoor play children practice physical skills such as running and climbing. While adults often have to remind children of the hazards of certain actions, it is often the case that children will have to learn through mistakes. Children learn risk management while participating in various types of outdoor activities. With practice, the child can learn to master the skill and experience the satisfaction of overcoming a previously difficult task.
The Evidence of BENEFITS
According to pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, schools are feeling pressure to limit free play to comply with growing demands for academic readiness that is expected by the time kids enter kindergarten. According to experts, this may be leading to an increase in social and sensory issues.
“If children were given ample opportunities to play outdoors every day with peers, there would be no need for specialized exercises or meditation techniques for the youngest of our society. They would simply develop these skills through play. That’s it.”
Hanscom says parents are obsessed with wanting to give her children an edge before they even enter formal schooling. Academic success becomes the focus, even at the expense of social development which can result in trouble controlling emotions, anxiety and sensory issues, and trouble with solitary play. Consequently, even when children test above average in regard to academic skills, they may be missing out on important life skills and basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.
“Let the adult-directed learning experiences come later. Preschool children need to play!”
One 5th grade teacher, Robbi Giuliano, took a drastic step – eliminating traditional desk chairs completely – in order to improve focus and behaviour in his class.
Instead, the kids sit on yoga balls. Why? The sitters work to stay balanced, the balls force students to use muscles and increase blood flow, making them more alert. The only rules: kids must always keep their bottoms on the balls and feet on the floor (they can bounce and bob to their heart’s content).
“[Sitting on the balls] made students better able to focus on lessons while improving their balance and core strength.”
According to John Kilbourne, professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, there is evidence that linking activity with education helps kids learn better. Methods from yoga balls to footrests to standing desks allow children to be active while learning, without disrupting the class.
“It’s the future of education,” – John Kilbourne, Grand Valley State University.
And according to Giuliano, it’s working – one more piece of evidence in the case that keeping active really does help kids learn. Many teachers like Giuliano and paediatric occupational therapists like Angela Hanscom seem to agree that a lack of this type of active play does seem to stunt development in critical ways – without it, kids are missing out on learning important life skills and basic social skills – and it’s important for all ages.
The bottom line: what children need most is rapid vestibular (balance) input on a daily basis. In layman’s terms, this means go upside down, spin in circles, and roll down hills. The activity does more than help them exercise, stay in shape, and learn to lead active lives; it also helps their brain development and encourages them to learn. You don’t have to be a teacher or paediatric occupational therapist to see the immediate benefits.
Encouraging more Outdoor Play
If you’ve thought about this before but you’re not sure on how to tackle the issue then you might begin by looking at your own garden. Is it a fun place for your children to spend time? It’s likely that there are improvements that could be made to attract them to spend more time playing outdoors. Would such improvements involve you spending a lot of money? Not necessarily. Children have such vivid imaginations that even the simplest toys, games and objects can provide them with hours of fun.
There are plenty of stores that do sell games and toys that are suitable for outdoor use. There are even some real bargains to be found online. Take advantage of this to create an outdoor space that is an exciting place for your children to play in. By ensuring that you have active kids you can help them to stay healthy.
A great option would be to invest in electric toy cars for kids which are fun yet very safe. They provide an incentive for adventurous kids to move into the outdoors more often. So it might help to check them out!