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):
It’s the holidays!
Here in North America, children are out of school and perhaps you are taking a few days off from either work or your normal routine. Some of us may take a week off for a trip with family or stay at home (a “homecation”) to take in some of the local fare or complete some of those bigger errands on our to-do list before 2016 runs out . Whatever you may be doing for the holidays, plan on some major chunks of time to experience the outdoors with your family. Most importantly MOVE.
None of us can ignore the benefits of movement. For your classroom, you may have already put together a unit and materials for children to understand healthy living and exercise. But if you are like me, I need reminding to keep me motivated to get out there and celebrate this beautiful creation of ours. Here is a list, compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, of how regular physical activity can improve you and a child’s overall health:
- Control your weight
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Reduce your risk of some cancers
- Strengthen your bones and muscles
- Improve your mental health and mood
- Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
- Increase your chances of living longer
Movement is not…
It can mean many things to different people but movement is not:
- Mall hopping
- Sitting behind the wheel for a drive in the country
- Being a couch potato watching the tube
- Even playing board or card games even though these are great for enhancing logic, language and reading skills as they build connectivity pathways in the brain.
- Sitting in a cafe writing a blog post (Oops, that’s what I am doing now!)
- Can you think of others? Share it with others. Add to the comments below.
There are so many ways to get and stay moving over the holidays. If you live in a cold climate and need to stay indoors, here is list by MommyPoppins.com, a New York City area website for children, parent(s) and families. If you can go out in cold weather, here are some ideas from the Seattle Children’s Hospital website:
- Create a nature book: Grab a camera, colored pencils, glue and a notebook and explore nature. Have kids write down observations and draw pictures of plants and animals. Collect twigs, leaves and flowers and glue them in the nature book. See how many plants a child can collect and take lots of pictures to document the places you explore.
- Go on a scavenger hunt: Make a list of items – pinecones, rocks, seeds, etc. Take a basket and collect the items on the list. Be sure to cross out each item you find. Add descriptors to the list as well – e.g. something smooth, rough, brown.
- Take a night hike: All you need is a flashlight or headlamp, warm clothes and walking shoes. Get the family together and take a night hike around the neighborhood.
- Collect rocks: Collect various rocks for rock crafts. All you need is glue, paint and wiggle eyes.
- Watch for wildlife: Grab binoculars, a magnifying glass and a pencil and paper and go for a wildlife watch. Have kids draw the animals they discover.
- Go on a color hunt: Grab a couple of color swatches and take the family on a “color hunt.” Help kids write down the color and name of each item, and draw a picture of each find.
- Take a bike ride: Take a family bike ride around the neighborhood. Make sure the whole family wears helmets!
- Go snowboarding or skiing: Hit the slopes! Spend a day mastering the bunny hills. Skiing and snowboarding are great ways to get kids moving. Just make sure you have protective gear and bundle up.
(For more information on these activities, go to the Seattle Children’s Hospital website)
Put it on the calendar. Make it a lifestyle.
For 2017, put exercise as a recurring calendar item for the entire family. It is a great way to be together and it let’s your child know that taking care of one’s physical health is an important part of our education and lifestyle. Let your child get in on the planning by allowing them to decide some of the activities from various choices. If it’s a new activity you may want to start out slow and not over exert yourself or a family member. Keep it enjoyable and repeatable. Make sure the activities are safe and that everyone is healthy enough to participate. Most of all, have fun.
Ready? Set? Move!
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!
Here’s another Practical Life activity for the classroom. With the holidays upon us, many will read to your children the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, where you will come across the passage that says: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The Gospel of Luke 2.7.
To swaddle a baby is a technique that mimics the coziness of the womb. It can keep your baby warm and comfortable, as well as help him or her sleep better and longer. Back in 2010, we posted this classroom activity and thought you might enjoy it!
For this activity, choosing a life-like and life-sized doll is important when placing it on your Practical Life shelf. Although the demonstration sheet, below, states the targeted age level as 6-9, one could confidently place this in the primary-age classroom as well.
To help you create your step-by-step visual, go here to Mayo Clinic’s slide show: How To Swaddle A Baby
How to diaper a baby…with a cloth diaper (preferred) and with disposable diaper:
Taking Care of a Baby
Curriculum Area: Practical Life
Age Group: 6-9 years
Prerequisites: Dressing Frames and Cloth Folding
Direct Aim: Learning how to care for a baby
disposable diaper (cloth preferred)
step-by-step picture books:
Book 1 – How to Swaddle a Baby
Book 2 – How to Diaper a Baby with a Disposable Diaper
Book 3 – How to Diaper a Baby with a Cloth Diaper
Invite a student to the work.
Show and name what is in the basket to him/her.
Demonstrate the lesson (one book at a time, in the order of the book number).
S/he may repeat the lesson by referring to the book as a guide.
Variations/Extensions: Carrying a baby in a sling, dissecting a disposable diaper (absorbent material experiment), baby anatomy