The Benefits of Outdoor Play For Children
BY MARIA MAGHER • MAY 24, 2015
Many parents today spent their childhood riding their bikes and playing games like baseball or dodgeball on side streets and in neighbors’ backyards. Many children today spend much of their time indoors, playing games on their tablets or watching television. The American Academy of Pediatrics says lots of unstructured outdoor play is critical to the health of children, though many have experienced a marked decline in the time they spend in free play.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says childhood obesity rates more than doubled from 1980 to 2010. One way to combat obesity is to allow children plenty of outdoor playtime. Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to run, jump, climb, swim, dance and more, all of which provide aerobic exercise and strength training. Outdoor physical activity also strengthens the immune system and improves vitamin D levels, which can provide protection from osteoporosis and health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that children get moderate to vigorous activity that adds up to at least an hour per day.
It may be hard to accept that children could experience stress or suffer from conditions like depression or anxiety, but these issues are becoming more common for today’s children, who have busy schedules with school and extracurricular activities. Physical activity in the form of outdoor play can help kids reduce their stress. The Children & Nature Network says contact with nature can help reduce stress levels and positively impact conditions such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The neurological benefits of unstructured outdoor play extend far beyond mental health. Encouraging children to get plenty of outdoor play can provide intellectual stimulation, as well. The AAP says outdoor play has been shown to help children focus better in a classroom setting and to enhance readiness for learning, easing the transition to school. Outdoor play also encourages learning and problem-solving skills, which can help children perform better in the classroom. Unstructured outdoor play also promotes creativity, which children can apply to their academic learning, helping them see the material in another way.
When children play with other children outdoors, it encourages their social development. Play gives children opportunities to learn how to work in groups, including learning how to share, how to negotiate and how to resolve conflicts, the AAP reports. Children who are allowed to explore through play can learn new skills and overcome challenges, which can promote self-confidence, resiliency and self-advocacy, all of which can help children learn how to develop healthy relationships and to become leaders.
Buckle Up Children!
Our UMA students are encouraged to create their own original ideas inspired by traditional Montessori activities. Heather Sharma from Winchester, VA submitted this simple, home-made sequencing activity for the classroom, with the willing assistance of her helpful son. The subject of fastening a seat belt not only reinforces personal safety, but also independence (fastening your own seatbelt) and responsibility (always buckle up!). And more…
Indirect preparation for language
Sequencing picture cards are designed to provide an indirect preparation for language (writing and reading). Sequencing cards always tell a “story” through pictures, placed in random order on a tray/basket. The story cards first are placed in order of logical progression (“first, next, then, last”) on a table or floor mat. There is always a beginning, middle, and end. Once this is completed, we then “read” the cards orally from left to right in story form. This activity helps broaden the child’s vocabulary, encourages the spoken language through story telling and elaboration, as well as inspires great follow-up conversation!
Indirect preparation for math and more…
Sequencing picture cards also provide an indirect preparation for math. Math concepts require order and sequence; for example, increasing numerical quantities (1-10), equations (1+2=3). Sequencing activities also help the child develop a sense of time or history, even a simple concept such as yesterday, today, or tomorrow. On a broader basis, this sense of time could be in the form of personal history (from newborn to now) or inventions (from dial-up phone to cell phone), or… ! AND, sequencing cards aid in understanding science concepts such as life cycles of plants or animals, or geography concepts such as islands being formed by volcanic eruptions…all requiring specific sequencing of events.
There are so many ways to introduce sequencing activities in all areas of learning! Thank you, Heather Sharma, for sharing your sequencing cards with us!
For more sequencing (and patterning):
We were recently asked how we report a child’s “academic” progress. Our two-fold answer to that question is that at the primary-age level (3-6), we observe each child holistically rather than focus mainly on their “academic” progress. We observe, take careful notes, and then record them into the child’s file at the end of a class session.
So what exactly do we observe?
Certainly, “academically” we observe what materials that a child is drawn to, introduced to, struggling with, or has mastered. A check off form can be used for each child, which is kept in a teacher’s binder.(You can find various free downloads on the internet.) This is used as a daily guide and later can be utilized as a reference when conducting a parent-teacher conference, but NOT to be handed out to the parent. The form has all the Montessori activities in the classroom listed with a basic Key, such as:
- Working on
Ratings such as “good, fair, and poor” or “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…” is not an acceptable means of evaluating a child’s progress. Remember, we never assign “grades.”
IMPORTANT! This type of reporting is just one element of the “bigger picture.” Looking at the “whole child,” our focus turns more to the following categories:
- Behavior and social interaction
- Communication and language skills
- Work habits
- Perceptual and reasoning ability
- Motor skills – fine and gross
- Environment interaction
These six categories, above, require handwritten observation notes as opposed to a check-off a list. Included within these categories are subcategories, with the following goals in mind for the child:
- A joy of learning
- Self discipline
- Attachment to reality
- Self confidence
- Enjoyment of quiet
- Willingness to listen
- Desire to explore
- Love of order
- Appreciation of nature
- Respect for others
- Respect for materials
- Peace-making skills
- Ability to concentrate
- Exercise freedom of choice
- Show self initiative
- Care for the environment
- Spirit of cooperation
- Ability to work independently
- Exercise self care
Again, through careful observation and note taking, this is how we are able to monitor each child’s progress, holistically. On that note, happy observing!