We often think of learning as an indoor activity, yet outdoor environments are wonderful places to play, exercise, and learn. Outdoor spaces like parks, playgrounds, and nature trails can promote engaging learning opportunities while also promoting active play. Open spaces, wooded areas, or paved urban settings, are great locations to learn while you play.
Children benefit, and objectives are easily met by bringing play to a child’s education. Children with special needs can show improvement in some symptoms with more time outdoors. In a 2001 study, 7 to 12-year-olds displayed less severe attention deficit disorder (ADD) symptoms after spending time in “green” settings. The greener the outdoor environment, with more grass and trees, the better the effect.
Improved outcomes should be enough reason to encourage playgrounds for educational purposes, but there’s more! Being able to release energy, use outdoor voices, get messy, along with the benefits of fresh air all create an outdoor learning environment that is an advantage to both the physical and mental health wellbeing of children. Our vitamin D levels get a boost, and so do our moods. Most of us can relate to improved temperament when the weather is nice, and we actually get outside to enjoy it.
With simple steps we can extend learning experiences beyond indoor environments like classrooms. Science-based curriculum can flourish when children get to experience different critters and plants within their local ecosystems. Playground can be used to test momentum, gravity, or friction. A fun game of rolling rocks down slides can end up being a great lesson on speed and velocity. Integrating outdoor learning environments creates a well-rounded learning experience. Math, science, arts, music, and gym are just a few topics that can be explored outdoors.
Outdoor play at daycare, or in early levels of grade schools may be some of the first social skills builders for children. Independent play and unstructured time with their peers can provide children opportunities for creativity, engagement, and exploration. Outdoor environments can encourage cooperation and social growth. Creative thinking, and imaginative play can improve motor skills development and overall abilities. Taking “loose parts” or open-ended materials like empty juice cartons, stir sticks, or cardboard boxes can help foster pretend play. Art class can happen with some washable paints, grass, and twigs. Spellings bees with chalk on the sidewalk can be a great motivator for children who may otherwise find spelling tests frustrating or boring. Problem solving skills can be molded when dealing with potential conflicts or bullying behaviour. Age-appropriate skills can be modeled by the adults to address troubles at the source, leading the way for more stable communication styles as the children mature.
A well-designed playground can help foster experiences to enhance self-confidence and promote positive emotional development for children. Parents and caregivers can nurture positive emotional development by observing children as they play and encouraging each child as they explore and try new skills. Encourage risk, encourage sharing, encourage free play.
With a little planning, and a lot of fun, playgrounds can be used in many ways beyond a few fun hours playing. Live, laugh, learn!