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.
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.
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!