Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Reflection on Outdoor Play

Lately I’ve been reflecting on all of the hard work that goes on during our time outside everyday.  Our yard is a beautiful space with many opportunities for exploring and the children are involved in every aspect of it: caring for the garden, making art in the studio, and carefully observing the wildlife are just a few examples of how we spend our time outside together.   



















While I was observing the children outside recently, it struck me that one common thread which ties many of our outdoor activities together is the play-based exploration of physics -- even beginning in infancy the children are constantly driven to explore concepts of nature, motion, force, and balance and it is this drive to understand the fundamentals of how the universe behaves that motivates much of our outdoor play.  Some examples of this exploration at the wobbler/toddler stage:

*Carrying very large objects and propping them at different angles – large beams of wood, the giant wooden fork, bikes, rakes, etc.
*Balancing on the edge of the sandbox, on top of stumps and low tables, and along beams of wood
*Building with wood, tiles, rocks, and even gourds – experimenting with shapes and materials to understand which objects balance readily and which are trickier to incorporate into structures
*Combining large pieces of wood with stumps and climbing on the improvised structure – testing balance and carefully shifting weight between both feet
*Climbing on the structure in the corner of the front yard, which has recently begun to include swinging from the bars and dropping to the ground
*Using bikes (both striders and tricycles) – working on balance, force, energy, and speed

Save for the climbing structure and bikes that we have intentionally placed in our outdoor space, all of these other examples are ones in which the children have gravitated toward and made use of naturally occurring elements in order to challenge themselves physically.  We see these challenges as play-based, curiosity-driven physics lessons – ones that provide the foundation for all of the learning they will go on to do in this realm.  Everyday the children tirelessly investigate the forces of nature, analyzing the elements at hand and working to understand the rules that guide their observations.  What is perhaps most striking is that these challenges are sought out naturally, without our needing to prompt or guide.  The desire to understand the world around them compels children to undertake these explorations in their own way, in their own time.  








When we appreciate the children’s work for what it is – self-motivated, hands-on scientific exploration – we can see that outdoor play constitutes some of the most foundational learning in a child’s day.  The freedom to move in a large, natural space filled with open-ended materials (both added features and those that are endemic to the outdoor space) encourages curiosity and builds a child's confidence and interest in their own exploratory abilities.














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