Dr. Kari is an Occupational Therapist and Certified Transformational Parenting Coach. She loves following her heart and helping others do the same, especially when it comes to changing the way we parent the next generation of leaders and learners.
We all may notice how a bit of fresh air and outdoor time can make us feel better. We also know that play is beneficial for kids - it’s the main way they learn! In childhood, “play” is actually children’s “work.” Let’s talk about 5 benefits of outdoor play!
1: Outdoor Play Increases Sensory Processing Skills
Playing outside involves not only moving one’s body - which increases proprioceptive (knowing where your body is in space) and vestibular (balance and movement) sensory inputs, but it also involves lots of auditory (hearing) and visual (sight) processing! Using all of our different senses in tandem is like brain gymnastics for a young child. It’s a way to help the brain organize itself and understand how their own bodies work and how the world around them impacts how they move, hear, and see. Not to mention all the temperatures and textures for touch - there is so much to feel. From dirt, to hard playground equipment, to grainy sand and rough leaves or twigs - there is a never-ending supply of tactile (touch) sensory input too!
2: Outdoor Play Promotes Imagination + Creativity
Children playing outside often enjoy an abundance of ‘pretend’ play which strengthens their imagination. From being chased, to exploring new lands, to solving mysteries… you never know what you may get into outside!
3: Outdoor Play Grows Problem Solving Abilities
Problem solving, one of the components of executive functioning, is strengthened through outdoor play. Children may have to solve problems about how to arrange items in a tower, or how far they need to step to get across an obstacle. They may also learn about the physics of objects and how they move when they roll something down a slope or over bumps!
4: Outdoor Play Enhances Social Play
Coordinating with, compromising with, and enjoying time with friends is a huge benefit of outside time. Children are engaging in all of the above (sensory skill building, imaginative play, and problem solving) TOGETHER! Plus, this means that sensory input, imagination, creativity, and problem solving opportunities multiply when multiple children are together!
5: Outdoor Play Increases Health
Unstructured physical activity means lots of movement, and lots of movement means strong bodies as well as increased mental health for kids.
When it comes to playtime, it’s hard to beat the benefits of Outdoor Play! We’d love to hear about your favorite outdoor activity - let us know your favorite way to play outside!
One of the most important aspects of parenting is keeping your child safe from harm. But a little bit of risk is actually beneficial for your child's development. Though the idea of "risky play" seems counterintuitive, it's actually a great way for your child to learn critical thinking skills!
What is risky play?
Risky play is any activity that allows your child to experience some level of risk. This can include things like playing in the rain, climbing trees, and riding their bikes. This play offers thrill and excitement and invites children to test their limits and expand their comfort zones. At an age when their brains are making new connections every day, navigating and assessing risk is a great skill to incorporate early.
Risky play is important for young children because it helps them learn about risks and consequences and helps them develop their problem-solving skills, self-confidence, and creativity.
It's important to note that not all risk is good risk! A safe environment where your child never experiences any risk would be very limiting for their development, but it's important to step in before they're in actual danger.
Why is risky play important for child development?
The benefits of risky play for children go beyond just teaching them how to handle risks responsibly. Risky play actually helps children learn key skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and persistence.
Risky play helps children learn about their environment and the risks that are associated with it. It also helps them develop problem-solving skills and a sense of confidence. In addition, risky play can lead to the development of creativity and new ideas. They learn how to take care of themselves and manage their own emotions, as well as how to cooperate with others.
Example of risky play: Playing in the rain
When it's rainy outside, you might find yourself arguing with your child about putting on their boots or a raincoat. Letting them go play as they desire is a great way for them to learn the natural consequences you already know as an adult - soggy socks and clothes, and feeling chilly.
When your child is playing in the rain, they are having fun at first, but soon they also learn how water can cause them discomfort. Naturally, they'll start to think about how to avoid getting wet, which gives you a great way to bring up their boots and raincoat the next time they want to play. They'll learn how to avoid that negative consequence, but it sticks better after experiencing it rather than being told! This type of learning is critical for your child's development because it teaches them how to think critically and solve problems.
Your child may also use this risky play to start overcoming their fears of rain or water. This kind of confidence building can help build a strong foundation for later life.
How can you incorporate risk into your child's play?
There is no one perfect way to incorporate risk into your child's play. Introducing them to new situations and settings, like a park or local hiking trail, can be a great way to let them explore. According to Outside Play, there are multiple types of risky play: play at heights, play at speed, play with dangerous tools, play with dangerous elements, play with a chance of getting lost, and rough and tumble play.
To incorporate play at heights, your child may enjoy climbing trees, playground equipment, or large rocks on the nature trail. You can also play at heights on a swing set by pushing them higher!
To play at speed, your child might ride their bike down a hill at fast speeds, or you could spin them on playground equipment.
Play with dangerous tools could include using a hammer or saw (if age appropriate), or using a knife to chop veggies with you in the kitchen. Always supervise play with tools!
Play with dangerous elements includes fire or water. We already discussed playing in the rain, but swimming lessons could also be a great risky play option, with a trained instructor and a lifeguard of course. We also recently talked about fire in our fire safety lessons, so your child might feel ready to help build a campfire or help you cook on a gas stove.
Play with a chance of getting lost doesn't have to mean that children can roam the neighborhood without an adult - kids get the benefit of this "risk" even if their parents can see them hiding and pretending to be lost. A robust game of hide-and-seek is a great way to get children used to being "lost" and exploring the emotions that come with the territory.
Rough and tumble play is just what it sounds like. Children often play-fight and wrestle, which engages their need for risky play and helps them gain a sense of their body's balance.
Risky play tips for worried parents
The most important thing is to not panic! Remember when your child was learning to walk: falling and getting back up is a critical part of the process. If your child looks a bit stuck, they'll often find a way out of their predicament on their own with a little critical thinking. Pause for a moment (or a few moments) before intervening to give your child a chance to problem solve.
Be sure to talk about safety and risk with your child in an age-appropriate way, and encourage them to take risks in a safe and responsible way. For example, if you notice a potential danger (say, a rose bush with sharp thorns), you can look at the bush together and ask them what they think it would take to stay safe near it.
At Heights Cooperative Preschool, we believe in the educational power of play! We do not separate our curriculum into discrete blocks of time for math, language, etc. Rather, children learn about themselves and the world around them through investigation and discovery, and through art, dramatic play, and social interactions.
Important areas such as literacy and numeracy development are introduced and woven through all activities. Research shows that children learn best through play, using their bodies in active learning. We provide many learning opportunities through meaningful play. But what is play-based learning?
What Is Play-Based Learning?
Play-based learning is a teaching method that focuses on the use of games and play to help children learn. It has been shown to be an effective way to engage children in class, improve their academic performance, and even decrease levels of stress.
Play-based learning methods work by immersing children in the material they are being taught. This can be done through game-based activities, which help to stimulate children’s interest in the subject matter, or through hands-on activities that give them a real-life experience with the material.
In a preschool setting, for example, teachers may use play to introduce new concepts such as numbers or letters. By playing together, children learn the skills needed to understand the information being presented.
Why Is Play-Based Learning So Effective?
There are a number of reasons why play-based learning is an effective method of education.
First, play is a natural way for children to learn. When they are engaged in fun activities that relate to the material they are being taught, they are more likely to remember what they have learned.
Second, play fosters creativity and imagination. By allowing children to explore and experiment with new ideas, they are more likely to come up with new solutions to problems. This type of thinking is essential for problem-solving skills and for learning HOW things work.
Third, play helps children build social skills. By playing together, children learn how to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. They also learn how to cooperate and share resources (such as toys or materials). These skills can be used in everyday life, as well as in school settings where teamwork is required.
Fourth, play provides children with a sense of accomplishment. When they achieve something positive through play-based learning activities, it can boost their confidence and self-esteem. This kind of positive reinforcement can help them stay motivated throughout the learning process.
Play-Based Learning in the Classroom
There are a number of ways to incorporate play-based learning in the classroom. In our classrooms at Heights Cooperative Preschool, we have designated spaces for students to learn in many different ways.
For circle time, students gather together for stories, songs, and other engaging activities. In a cozy corner, one or two students at a time can take a quiet break and enjoy a book or toy. Our classrooms also incorporate dramatic play spaces, including real-life models such as a kitchen and table, a store, and other environments where children can model what they have seen adults do in daily life.
Many of our students aren't reading books yet, but our early literature spaces include letters and words for children to practice with in fun ways. Incorporating loose parts and blocks gives the children an opportunity to create their own games and rules, teach those games to other students, and play together without being limited by pre-designed game rules.
Sensory areas help students get to know different materials and sensations, and can be extremely soothing and self-regulating! And creativity is also a great way for kids to explore learning through play, when they can see the result of mixing paint colors or using different types of craft materials.
How to Choose the Right Games and Activities for Students
There are a number of factors we take into account when choosing play-based learning games and activities for our students. These include their level of development, prior knowledge, and interests.
1. Level of Development. Certain activities are better suited for older students, while others are more appropriate for younger students. For example, activities that require working with numbers or letters may be better for 3rd or 4th grade students, while a game about making ice cream might be more appropriate for pre-kindergarteners.
2. Prior Knowledge. It's important to choose games and activities that challenge your students without overwhelming them with too much information at once. For example, a game about counting to 20 can be a great introduction to counting, but it might be too difficult for kids who haven't learned their numbers yet.
3. Interests and Hobbies. One of the best ways to engage your students is to find out what their interests and hobbies are! This way, you can find games and activities that align with those interests and help them learn in a fun way!
If you're not sure which games and activities are best for your class, check out our online resource library. In there, you'll find a variety of play-based learning games and activities that can help you enhance your students' learning experience.
How to Encourage Children To Participate In Play-Based Learning Sessions
One of the best ways to encourage children to participate in play-based learning sessions is to make them feel comfortable. This means providing them with the right environment and making sure that the games and activities are easy to follow.
We encourage children to participate in play-based learning sessions by:
Play-Based Learning is at Your Fingertips
In this article, we've discussed how play-based learning can be used in the classroom to enhance learning and engagement. We've also provided tips on how to choose games and activities that are suitable for students, how to encourage them to participate, and how to make the sessions as comfortable as possible.
By implementing play-based learning into the classroom, we can improve engagement and enhance student learning. Overall, play-based learning is a great way to engage students and help them learn more effectively. By using the tips provided in this article, you can even create dynamic and fun sessions at home that will have a positive impact on your children’s learning!