May 04, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Teacher talk: Why outdoor play is vital in school

In our third installment of “Teacher talk,” which pays tribute to playful teachers across the country during Teacher Appreciation Week, we turn our attention to the importance of outdoor play. Play is vital in the classroom, but it’s only outdoors that children get the freedom and space to jump, wriggle, shout, and do all those things that kids are born to do. Plus, the natural world—whether in the form of trees, sand, or puddles—presents unique sensory and learning opportunities.

Here, teachers reflect on why they make sure to get their students outside:

“We try to remember that any activity you can do inside (painting, building, making music, reading and writing), you can also do outside. Along with that, we try to bring the outside (nature) into the classroom whenever possible (snow in the sensory table, painting with leaves, etc.). We know that play leads to discoveries about ourselves, our language and the world around us. Play opens doors to everything wonderful.”
- Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, New York

“Through outdoor play, my students learn to take acceptable risks and push themselves to try new things. This experience carries over into all academic areas, where challenges are met with an ‘I think I can’ attitude and new academic material is seen as something they are capable of tackling.”
- Rebecca O'Hagan, Washington

“Play seems to be becoming a lost art in today's world of children. However, as an educator of pre-service early childhood teachers I am sure to prioritize the importance of play in the life of a child. Open-ended materials in nature is one of my favorite modes of play to introduce! Lots of opportunities for risk-taking, team-building and creative dramatics can take place outside in nature. Get the children outside, give them room to get dirty, explore and discover a world where we are not fenced in by time.”
- Jennifer Koel, Wisconsin

“Our students play outside every day for an hour or so, rain or shine. We have rain gear to keep us dry and comfortable in any weather. The children love a chance to explore the seasons and nature in such a direct way.”
- Karen Smith, Georgia

“We are an urban school that is lucky enough to have open space, including woods. Our Nursery and Kindergarten children spend at least an hour of the school day in nature each day, regardless of weather. Children always have proper gear to go out and experience nature every day. Our festival life in the school revolves around nature and celebrates it.”
- Lisa Bechmann, Maryland

“Our children learn that their bodies can do different things on the outside equipment. They take risks, build confidence, and occasionally hurt themselves—for example missing a bar on the monkey bars and falling to the ground. As they continue to take on new challenges, grow in confidence, develop greater coordination, and seek independent and group play times, we remember to ask them what's working in their play and what's not working.”
- Shawn Bryant, California

Tomorrow: Teachers talk about the benefits of dramatic play.

Previous installments:

early childhood education, teacher appreciation week, education, elementary school, preschool