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Let's Stop Kidding Ourselves, Active Outdoor Play Matters!

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Will we ever be able to stop justifying the value of children’s active outdoor play? I think not. This will be an endless push by Early Childhood professionals, as our society continues its march into a technology-driven lifestyle.

I was again reminded of this recently when Rae Pica posted an image of an exercise bike for toddlers… apparently aimed at providing a solitary exercise experience for the child while engaged with a screen. Geesh.

We have to remember that a child develops across multiple domains synchronously. Each impacts the other. The physical benefits of outdoor active play are obvious, but let’s consider some of the social and emotional payoffs. Simply stated, while engaged in this type of play, children form relationships with peers, acquire confidence in their abilities, and learn to express their emotions.

One of the greatest emotional benefits of outdoor active play for young children is having a sense of self-control or competence. Some children have an innate drive to try and master new things and don’t need much encouragement to do so. Others may be hesitant to get involved with new play activities and may even give up easily. Later, this may translate to giving up easily on academic tasks, too. It’s critical, then to support their motivation and confidence to master new skills.

We can do this by offering a variety of active play that is interesting and fun. Change it up! Use equipment like balls, trikes, and climbers and then also include group games- some with music and some with simple instructions. They’ll let us know their favorites by their enthusiasm to participate and requests to do those activities again and again.

child climbing

By continually providing new challenges for young children, they have many opportunities to try out and master new skills. This leads to pride in accomplishment and a motivation to achieve even more.

When children solve problems using their bodies, they are gaining competence and learning self-control. Active games like Simon Says is excellent for helping children learn to restrain their impulses and delay gratification. Control over body movements involves many of the same areas of the brain that control emotional impulses.

Regardless of ability, children express a whole range of positive emotions when engaged in active outdoor play… laughing, smiling, and squealing with excitement. This enjoyment can definitely influence their mood and focus for the day. Ask any teacher who has had to endure “indoor recess.”


As children interact with their peers, they are exposed to and experience a wide range of negative emotions, as well. These can include disappointment, conflict, rejection, frustration, and sadness. They learn to pay attention and identify these feelings in others and in themselves. When children become skilled at doing this, it leads to better social adjustment and ability to get along with others. Being able to control one’s behavior and relate well to others is just as critical to a child’s success in life as his learning academic skills.

comforting each other

As educators, we can’t stand by and watch the door slowly close on something as important as active outdoor play. We’ve got to kick it off its hinges!

door closed w little boy

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Saturday, 23 February 2019