Outdoor Play for Children – Rockin’ Out

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“Nature should be considered a critical variable in the design of all childhood habitats, including homes, childcare centers, schools, places of worship, and neighborhoods…” -Robin Moore, Natural Learning Initiative, North Carolina State University

I will always remember how intently my children tried to get outside as babies. They would crawl to the front door, pound on the glass, and not let up until we went into the great outdoors…or at least the front yard!

Outside, they seemed to light up. They were naturally more inquisitive, more energetic, and more happy. The nature did em’ good! Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically.

“Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.” (Dr. Stephen R. Kellert of Yale University, 2005)

Unstructured free play in the out-of-doors brings a host of benefits to children—from being smarter to more cooperative to healthier overall. But a little guidance never hurt… Parents and teachers can provide children with basic resources that add a layer of learning to the outdoor play.

Is your child curious about creepy crawlers? Hand them a butterfly net and a big bug magnifying jar to help study the insects. Or lead them on an animal tracking expedition! What child would not like a Barn Owl Pellet? Gross!

Need to bring the learning inside, but still want to keep the outdoor theme going? No problem. Parents can guide children through activities like the butterfly life cycle using a butterfly pavilion. Assemble a giant ladybug life cycle puzzle, or play the Let’s Grow Life Cycles Game.

The American Institutes for Research conducted a study, submitted to the California Department of Education, of the impact of weeklong residential outdoor education programs. The focus was on at-risk youth, 56% of whom reported never having spent time in a natural setting. Comparing the impact on students who experienced the outdoor education program versus those in a control group who had not had the outdoor learning experience, results were statistically significant.

Major findings were: 27% increase in measured mastery of science concepts; enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution skills; gains in self-esteem; gains in positive environmental behavior; and gains in problem-solving, motivation to learn, and classroom behavior. “Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California.” American Institutes for Research: Palo Alto, CA: 2005.

So what does it all mean? Green is good. Get outside. Enjoy nature with your children and encourage a life full of the great outdoors. What are you waiting for? Shut down the iMac and get going!

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