Whenever my children say “I’m bored!” I love it. Why? I have to admit it used to annoy me, but now I love it because I tell them, “then you are about to learn something incredible”. Why do I say this? The research is clear that unstructured play (defined as child led, rather than directed or guided by an adult) actually allows our children to imagine, create, think of a new way, a new game, a world of possibilities… changing and growing their brain in new ways… and I have seen this proven with my own children time and time again. Indoor unstructured play is fun and quite creative, but the outside world has even so much to offer.
As the weather warms up and the outdoor world awaits, I also find it allows even more creative “play” to take place. I remember when my son was just three years old he had a “fort” inside a bush in our yard where kings and queens lived and mighty battles were fought. Now, both my children when I tell them to “get outside” they end up creating dances, songs, new tag games, and worlds- yes, worlds I would have never ever thought of. Just like research tells us it does, this outdoor play allows them more space to grow in creativity, in storytelling, compromise, conflict resolution, foundational literacy skills and social and emotional skills increase just as research tells us with unstructured play!
This happens at recess right here at Winans. Many schools are going away from so much time at recess, but one thing I have loved about Winans is the three recesses a day which adds up to over an hour and half of outdoor play sometimes within the school day. That is not lost time, but this is in fact learning time where our students are using unstructured play to grow their brains or even give their brain a “break” which is also much needed in the learning process.
Just the other day at Winans when I was out at recess, there were four children around the tree creating “fairy” homes. The students were breaking small twigs and carefully placing them on the tree to create doors and hallways for their fairies to enter and roam. Together they were cooperatively creating storylines, characters, plots, and settings just like the standards our states tells us to teach and in fact they were meeting these state standards right there in “fairyland” at recess. If they would have been assessed on these state standards right then and there, all four of them would have surely passed in this performance task. At last, this is not always what the creators of our state standards think of as meeting or even passing, but for me standing by watching this, these students were creators and thinkers and storytellers. They were future film producers, writers, animators, and entertainers. Above all, they were learning!
Get outside! Get your child outside! Nature has so many benefits besides just the sun shining on our faces, seeing the life around us, the growth, the rocks, trees, and the beautiful pastures that surround us. Research is showing that it not only can decrease stress, add focus to our lives, increase memory, but improve our overall mental health (yes, in children and adults). So, the next time you are tempted to turn on that movie for your child, or pass them their ipad, send them outside… and better yet, go out there with them! It will do you both good!