South Africans are fortunate enough to live in a country where the people are blessed with wide-open spaces and an abundance of wildlife. Many children in foreign countries are limited in the amount of time they spend outdoors.
Crawford schools value time spent in fresh air and place emphasis on an environment where children can explore many varieties of outdoor play. We provide an age-appropriate natural oasis in the middle of a man-made jungle.
There are many benefits to outdoor freeplay, the first and foremost being the emotional health of our children. Being outside helps them be more in tune with nature, a chance to discover and understand the world we live in. This develops empathy, which in turn boosts children’s emotional intelligence.
Jumping, running, skipping, crawling, proudly showing off their prowess, gives them the opportunity to explore which gives them a sense of achievement, which increases their self-esteem.
While playing outside they have more opportunities to interact socially with their peers, which means that they learn to share, co-operate and help others. Surrounded by other children there is less need for solitary play, as friendships naturally occur.
When surrounded by a beautiful environment a child is generally happier. They have a chance to exercise and release pent up energy. This leads to a more active lifestyle, decreasing the need for sedentary use of media. Physical exercise reduces symptoms related to anxiety and depression.
They have the chance to explore their imaginations and engage in fantasy play. Role playing using the various apparatus, allows them space to express their aspirations as budding astronauts, scientists, dancers etc.
When children play outside, they have more opportunities to problem solve. Just climbing a tree gives them the chance to calculate where to put their feet, take risks and judge distance. Finding solutions encourages creative thinking by letting them develop their own ideas without feeling supervised. They develop a ‘can do’ attitude which enables them to become risk takers within a secure age-appropriate environment.
When playing outside children use higher levels of sequencing, planning and organising. They are found to be more creative, and able to come up with ‘real world’ solutions.
When surrounded by nature they have the chance to look at animals and insects in their habitats, encouraging observational skills. They can observe life cycles of flora and fauna, make their own discoveries and draw their own conclusions from personal experience rather than from the perspective of an app, parent or teacher.
Getting their hands dirty exploring the textures of nature with messy play allows for the opportunity to splash, sift, pour and mush. This brings their senses to life, stimulating the brain in many different ways.
As Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research” and as educators and parents we endeavour to provide our children with the freedom to explore and grow in beautiful, open spaces though play.
By: Nikki Obertik, Teacher at Crawford Pre-Primary Fourways