Go out and play!

Children need outdoor play time to become better learners.

April 21, 2013 - Author: Holly Tiret, Michigan State University Extension

Schools are becoming more focused on meeting academic performance measures for every child. In an effort to meet these standards, policy makers, administrators and teachers are trying to squeeze every precious minute of the school day for academics. Unfortunately the one thing that is being squeezed out is recess.Go out and play!

Recess has been a traditional part of preschool through elementary school. It is a time when students can go outside, run around and interact with peers. When looked at as simply a play break, some might feel it is frivolous use of academic time and deprives children of guided learning from teachers. However, if we applied the same principles to adults, then it would make sense that we should eliminate morning and afternoon breaks and shorten lunch periods to increase productivity in the work place. There are unions and other laws in place that protect our adult rights to breaks, and for good reason. We need them. In addition, some innovative companies that are viewed as extremely productive and creative have found ways to make ‘play’ a part of the work day.

So what exactly do children get from that running around, swinging, yelling and just chatting on the playground? Are there any benefits? There is quite a bit of research that shows a multitude of benefits of children taking part in ‘recess’ or free play outdoors.

Outdoor play:

  • Offers children an opportunity to be more creative.
  • Lets children do what they are interested in; run, learn sports, climb, talk and look at bugs.
  • Provides children with hands-on learning through being able to manipulate natural materials like dirt, leaves, rocks and bugs.
  • Provides a physical outlet for pent up energy. Physical exercise can reduce stress levels and put children in a calm state so they are more receptive to teacher led indoor lessons.
  • Provides children with time to practice critical social skills such as negotiating who is on a team, making up rules for a game, taking turns on the slide, talking with friends about life (“Who’s coming to your birthday party?” “How mean is your sister?”).
  • Improves children’s mental health by giving them a chance to rejuvenate, relax and return to class with renewed interest.

Some experts have taken this outdoor approach even further to suggest ways to teach math, science and reading as outdoor lessons. Ruth Wilson’s book “Nature and Young Children,” offers guidance in outdoor learning such as alternative settings for nature-focused learning, and cross curricular approaches.

For more information on the importance of outdoor play for children visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website that has a page dedicated to the notion of No Child Left Inside. Their website states that, “Today children spend less than 30 minutes a week in unstructured outdoor play. The total range for children playing and wandering outdoors is one-ninth of what it was for current adults.”

You can find many resources for keeping kids actively engaged in the outdoors by exploring the Michigan State University Extension website. Michigan 4-H youth groups offer many opportunities to engage young people in experiential learning, including outdoor activities and clubs.

In conclusion, we need to ensure that all children are provided with ample time outside engaged in free play. We need to advocate for adequate recess time during the school day. Having happier, healthier children means having children who are able to learn more, get along with others, and grow up to be productive adults.

Tags: academic success, approaches to learning, early childhood development, family, healthy relationships, healthy youth, life skills, msu extension, physical activity, physical development and health, social and emotional development

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