Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning Deeply Rooted in the Outdoors

Playing outdoors is not just so that children "get their energy out" or "run around so that they can focus on academics indoors". Outdoor play is so much more.

Children are playing less and less outdoors than they ever have before. Think back to when you were younger and how exciting and often you played outside. When I think of my childhood, my fondest memories were at the park with my family or playing in my backyard with my friends. My parents never had to ask me to go outside because I always asked first!

We have had many debates at our school about the length, frequency, structure of outdoor play. We all value this time but have done some reflection as to how to make it most effective. Last year, Sarah organized the Greening Project and we are on our way to creating a "greener" more natural play space for the children. We have added a pathway, ramp, stage, and many trees/bushes.

Outdoor play presents multiple opportunities for learning that simply cannot come from the indoor classroom environment. There are much richer opportunities for gross motor development, sensory play, symbolic/sociodramatic play, and construction play.

As stated by Beverlie Dietze in her article "Saving Children's Outdoor Play Before it Becomes Obsolete" -

"the outdoor play environment, when used to it's full potential, becomes a child's laboratory for experimenting, discovering, wondering, imagining, and ultimately learning"

I watched one of our students drag the logs to an area where he built a large transport truck, just like his dad drives. He taught the other children about the different parts that he needed and when interested he supported them in building their own trucks. The children set off on an adventure looking out of their windows at different sights, stopping for gas and snacks at the truck stops on the way.

I think what stands out to me the most about this play scenario is the choice in equipment and the level of imagination that I saw. Quite often the expensive playground structure that was added to our space is ignored by the children who are drawn to more natural open ended materials (tires, tree stumps, sticks, rocks).
On picture day, we wanted to ensure that our clothes stayed a bit clean until our classroom photo. However, instead of avoiding outdoor play altogether we went on a short community walk. We took photos of shapes, patterns, and print that we found in the environment. It was incredible the amount of learning that came through in a short walk up and down the street!
In this article, Copeland suggests that "adults can either be positive influences or create barriers for children's outdoor play."

This is so true on so many different levels. Far too often teachers are....afraid of cold weather, afraid when children take risks, frustrated by how long it takes children to get dressed and undressed, or worried about fitting in "all of the academics" ... I have been there myself.

However, when you begin to truly understand the depth and importance of outdoor play your patience and flexibility begins to grow and expand. When I began teaching Kindergarten I am not sure that I truly understood the value of this I find myself wanting to shift the learning outdoors whenever possible!

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