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!
Have you met our pets? We have two guinea pigs, Sushi and Kiwi, and a Russian Tortoise named by popular vote: Glitter. Our students love our pets and besides being a fun addition to the school day, class pets can also help with learning and more!
Pets in school can be great for a variety of reasons. They provide students with a sense of belonging, reduce stress, and help to build relationships and practice boundaries. They can also provide an outlet for creative expression.
For example, see the Winter Wonderland and the Pet City our Pre-K class created for below! These students got creative and created a whole map of magical lands for our class tortoise to travel, and a city for all of our pets to explore.
How Can Pets Help Reduce Stress?
Pets help to reduce stress by providing a source of comfort and companionship. It can be very soothing to observe animals go about their day, and since we allow our students to self-lead in the classroom, choosing to observe or play with our class pets is an option for them during the school day. As long as the pets are okay with it, of course.
How Are Pets Used to Build Relationships?
Pets can be used to build relationships with teachers and students, as well as with other animals like pets at home or the pets of friends. They can also be used as a way to teach responsibility, empathy, and compassion.
Our students know that they have to ask before touching any of our class pets, and they pick up on the animals' signals that they are ready to go back into their homes and have some kid-free time. We always make sure that there is a teacher watching when any student is interacting with the pets - for the safety of our kids and animals! And of course we teach the importance of hand washing after handling the animals.
These rules around the pets are like the boundaries we must respect when it comes to playing with our classmates too. Just like the students have to ask before playing with the animals, they also have to ask before they take a toy or book from their classmates or hug, tickle, or touch their friends.
What Are the Benefits of Having Pets in Class?
Pets can help to promote learning by providing an outlet for creativity, as well as by encouraging students to explore their own interests and passions. Classroom pets improve student behavior and performance too, including better school attendance and student engagement, as well as decreased disciplinary measures.
Pets also provide companionship and emotional support for students, and they also provide lots of entertainment and learning experiences! Interacting with animals is a great way to reduce stress and also boosts class morale and mood. Our students love seeing what the pets get up to all day long (honestly, so does our staff!)
Having class pets in school has a multitude of benefits including:
How to Support our Class Pets
Encourage your child to share stories about our class pets, and remind your students to always respect pets’ boundaries. You can practice at home with your own pets too.
Mx. Taryn cares for our class pets but if you’d like to help them get their favorite snacks, Sushi and Kiwi love bananas, kale, and carrots, and Glitter loves to munch on grapes and sweet potatoes!
One of our classroom zones includes sensory play. But what exactly is sensory play, how it is helpful for learning and development, and how can you continue that learning outside the classroom?
As a parent, you want to provide your child with the best possible environment for learning and development. They learn as much or MORE at home as they do at school, so this blog will help outline ways to bring the benefits of sensory play into your home.
And don't worry - you don't have to set up a huge ordeal in order to get the benefits of sensory play.
What Is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is an activity that allows children to experience and explore their senses:
Sensory play can be done independently or with others, and can help children learn about their body, emotions, and surroundings. You've probably engaged in sensory play without knowing it!
Playing Peek-A-Boo with a baby is a sensory activity: Now they see you, now they don't. Singing or telling a story to your child explores their sense of hearing. Learning to whistle engages their sense of body awareness. Spinning around really fast until you fall down is a great (if disorienting) balance and body awareness activity.
Let's dive into more about sensory play's benefits and some tips for you to engage all the senses.
Why Provide Sensory Play Opportunities?
Providing sensory play opportunities can have a number of benefits for children's development.
One of the most important benefits of sensory experience and play is cognitive development including attention span, problem-solving, and emotional processing. Playing with the senses helps your child learn how to think and anticipate responses. They learn to process information through their senses and develop basic motor skills.
Playing with the senses helps children develop self-awareness and understand their emotions. When children are able to explore and understand their environment, they learn to trust their own instincts and intuition. This builds resilience - a key trait for successful childhood development!
Sensory play also promotes socialization. When children are able to share their experiences with others, they learn how to cooperate and share resources. Playing together is a great way to build friendships.
How to Create a Home Environment for Sensory Play
Make sure all the materials your child needs are close at hand. Sensory play is a great way to engage your child's senses, but it can be difficult if they have to go search for something specific. Make sure all the materials needed for the activity are within easy reach so your child can get started.
Safety is the number one priority with any activity. As we've written about before, risky play is a way for children to learn about natural consequences and practice self-regulation when they go fast, climb high, or experience different environmental conditions (like playing in the rain with no boots -- those soggy socks aren't so fun, and this helps them learn that boots are an important part of rainy days).
Knowing that pushing the limits of their sensory experiences can be helpful from this risky play standpoint, you still need to make sure that everyone knows the rules and stays safe.
Make sure all materials used in the activity are safe. Avoid sharp, hot, or other dangerous materials during your sensory play. If you want to practice with temperatures, make sure that your "hot" option is comfortably warm and not dangerously hot or boiling. (Sounds obvious, but reminders are always good!)
This could also mean using large items instead of smaller ones, if your child is at an age where they're putting things in their mouth!
Set clear rules about how the activity is to be conducted. For example, if you're exploring the sense of smell and letting your child smell different scented markers, candles, or other non-edible materials, a very clear "This is not for eating" rule needs to be communicated!
Make sure everyone in the activity is aware of the rules and follows them.
Check ingredients. If you're doing sensory activities with younger kids, look for non-toxic or taste-safe options. For instance, you can make a whipped cream similar to shaving cream by whipping up the juice from a can of chickpeas. That way if your toddler sneaks a taste, you don't have to worry. Thanks for this awesome food-safe tip from The Scott Cottage on Instagram!
Clay and dough-type products for children like Play Doh are typically non-toxic but still taste pretty terrible. So maybe those risky play consequences will come into play here!
Stay nearby for assistance. Your growing child will want to be independent as they continue their play, but we advise always keeping an eye on them in case of breaks, spills, or an unexpected response to the activity.
Tips for Getting Started with Sensory Play
Like we mentioned above, you don't necessarily need to pull out all the stops and provide the most Pinterest-worthy sensory play environment. Engaging the senses doesn't need to be complicated or over-produced. Here are some tips to get started.
Find out what your child likes and explores the most. This will help you find activities that interest them. Working with their natural likes and dislikes gives you an easy to follow guide! If they love touching different textures, you can let them touch different things around the house and explore that sense. If they love music, listen to a few genres and let them dance it out.
Start small with simple activities. Don't start with something that will require a lot of preparation or set up. This will make it easier for you as the parent and for your child to follow their natural interests with no pressure to do it "enough" to make it worth your time for all that setup!
Encourage your child to ask questions about what they're doing and why. This will help them learn more about their own body and mind.
You don't need to overstress about whether sensory play is doing enough for your child. The important part is to provide opportunities for your child to explore their senses and have fun. By following these tips, you can create a safe and encouraging environment for sensory play.
Happy Black History Month! Each February we celebrate Black History Month to learn about the culture, heritage, and history of the Black community. Using books, music, art, and conversations, we can encourage even the youngest of learners to celebrate Black history. During this month at Heights, we're incorporating stories, art, and more to focus on a celebration of Black culture.
Of course, learning about Black history shouldn't be limited to just one month out of the year. But during Black History Month, it's a reminder for people of all cultures to specifically seek out and deepen their understanding of Black history. While it's easy to share about the successes and accomplishments of Black historical figures, it's also important to teach children from all backgrounds about the harder topics related to Black history too.
Help Preschoolers Celebrate Black History Month
One of the easiest ways to teach kids about Black history is through stories and reading! Having a diverse array of books to choose from helps expose kids to different cultures from an early age and teaches them to appreciate the differences between people, instead of thinking that differences are bad or strange. This makes children more empathetic and compassionate, and starts to build their sense of social justice.
There are countless books about Black history written by Black authors for readers of all ages. Some of our recommendations include:
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race by Megan Madison
Little Black Lives Matter by Khodi Dill
Teach Them Young ABC's African American Edition by Shamariah Starr
You can also start talking about race and culture at all ages of your child's development. Part of Black History Month's importance is acknowledging what Black people have experienced throughout history, which includes hard topics like racism and slavery. Have a conversation about race and prejudice with your preschooler – explain why it’s important to learn more about the histories of different cultures, and how we can all work together to make things better for everyone.
You can look to your preschooler's favorite tv shows to help celebrate and learn during Black History Month too. Sesame Street and CNN partnered to develop Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests, as a way to help connect with children and help families explain and understand racism in kid-friendly terms. And PBS Kids had a special about race and racism featuring content from popular shows Daniel Tiger's neighborhood, Arthur, and Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.
Preschoolers are developing a strong sense of fairness, right, and wrong - which means they'll catch on to simple explanations of treating people unfairly based on the color of their skin. Remember to keep things simple and age-appropriate and answer your child's questions honestly.
Black History Month doesn't have to just be about history, either. Embrace your child's current favorites and enjoy shows, movies, stories, music, and more that feature Black characters and artists who are making history today!