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The Importance of Playing Outdoors

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

 In the last year I have attended a variety of workshops which have focused on the essential need for children to spend time outdoors as well as several on sensory processing. Amazingly, the two areas intersect quite nicely when taking into account what a child needs to become creative, independent, confident and healthy.

Most recently, I attended a presentation by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and the author of Balanced and Barefoot. The event was sponsored by the Discovery Museum in Acton.  Her book is a delight to read and was written primarily for parents and caregivers.  She shares invaluable information about the importance of extended free play especially in nature.

Angela shares scientific research and studies to support what she herself observes in children. As a therapist, she has seen an alarming increase in the number of children who were being referred for sensory processing issues; a 94 % increase in referrals for 3 year olds and a 76% increase for 4 year olds. She also sees a dramatic change in the physical abilities of young children in both fine and gross motor realms.  She designed a program called TimberNook which is developmental and nature-based giving children the opportunity to play freely in nature for extended periods.

 She suggests that children, even babies, need to spend time out-of-doors exploring the world around them and at the same time building their physical strength, challenging their bodies and gaining better health and confidence.

For some parents and caregivers, this may be outside of their comfort zone at first, so she suggests some simple ways to enjoy the outdoors together; berry picking, walking, interacting with animals
bird watching, tree climbing and playing at the beach.  Unlike many indoor environments, the natural world is calming to children, improves eye function, fosters listening, improves their sense of smell and taste. She also brilliantly explains the vestibular sense which is responsible for balance. She suggests activities, once taken for granted, that children need to experience. 

Ms. Hanscom reports that children who play vigorously outdoors have stronger bones and muscles, greater balance and agility, and healthier immune systems. “Through play,” she proposes “children
learn to compromise and work with one another, to work through frustrations, fear and anxiety and to become flexible, resilient and capable.”

I highly recommend that parents and teachers read Angela’s book.

Other books to consider:

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Place Based Learning by David Sobel
Nature and Young Children by Ruth Wilson
How to Parent a Wild Child-Scott Sampson