The importance of unstructured outdoor play

14 Feb

Sherri Ebner provided an outstanding Applewild Speakers’ Series presentation about The Playground: Our Outdoor Classroom on February 12. She emphasized the importance of outdoors, of unstructured play, of creating spaces on playgrounds (at school or at home) that promote imaginative play, problem solving, and the value of interacting outside and with nature. She noted that teachers and parents in such environments become engaged with the children, asking questions and asking for help rather than dictating rules and simply monitoring behavior. With a well-conceived playground, the curriculum is as deep and powerful outside to enhance learning as it is inside, and it will promote healthy attitudes toward physical activity and the outdoors.

As Ebner noted, the United States is facing a crisis for children in terms of lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes, and what Richard Louv has termed “nature-deficit disorder.” At Applewild, children play in the snow (Winterfest on Wednesday was a perfect example!), walk around in the rain, and have many opportunities for unstructured, creative play. Among the many benefits, certainly in early childhood but at all ages, are enhanced socialization and problem solving skills. Cognitive and physical development are tied, Ebner pointed out, as is emotional stability, so physical activity is essential for healthy growth. The large muscles need to be activated, not just the fingers. Instead of, as Ebner noted,  “drowning in media” with what is often an isolating and certainly not physically active experience, exploration in the real world with other children in real time needs to be encouraged.

You can read the notes from Ebner’s presentation by clicking here. In the presentation there were many more photos of children actively engaged in various examples of play spaces: water wall, mud kitchen, music area, garden, loose pieces, etc. However, we deleted those slides due to child privacy requests.

Coincidentally, I read the morning after Ebner’s presentation an article in the Washington Post about testing in kindergarten. Teachers in Oregon are expressing concern about the poor testing results of their students. The article provides clear responses to that concern. The responses mirror what Ebner was advocating and what is at the heart of the Applewild experience: exploration, creative problem solving, developmentally appropriate challenge, finding connections in the learning, and having fun mastering an accelerated curriculum : Note particularly the “What Could be Done” section and how it connects to both our CDCA Preschool approach, and to the core values and core competencies that are central to Applewild.