I can still hear my mother and grandmother telling my sister and me, “Go play outside!” We didn’t have to be told twice.
My sister and I dressed for the weather and we were ready for anything. We might play jump rope, hopscotch, stoop ball, hide-and-seek, or tag with any friends who showed up. It was unstructured, unsupervised fun in the fresh air.
When it snowed, our street in Brooklyn became a winter wonderland. We built snowmen, played in the frosty weather, and threw snowballs at each other. The hours flew by as we romped in the snow with our friends. We didn’t want to come inside!
These days, I can recapture some of that amazing, carefree spirit with my work at Kew Kids Forest School. It’s a nature preschool that brings children outside to learn, play, and interact with the natural world. Here, the philosophy is that being out in nature is good for kids.
We go into our outside classroom with some ideas in our pocket (like observing the fall forest, building a little house for the fairies, or even mud painting), but we leave it up to the children to see how the outing goes. They might become fascinated with a big old tree and spend the whole time climbing on it instead of following our lesson plan of the day. And that’s fine.
I love to see how the natural world stimulates children’s imagination when they play outside. One little boy made me a woodland pizza with a piece of bark as the crust, leaves as the cheese, and acorns as “strawberries” to top it off.
Spending time with these children, I get to observe how happy and calm they seem outside as opposed to the indoor classroom. I know that being in nature has the same effect on me; I love to be outside and I feel very serene and calm when I am hiking in the park.
Evidence is piling up to support something that our parents knew instinctively, that playing outside is good for children. And being outdoors is good for us, too!