Tag Archives: outdoor play

Let Mother Nature Do the Teaching

Take a hike! Let mother nature do the teaching.

Take a hike! Let mother nature do the teaching.

Welcome Kelly Ely, 4C for Children Professional Development Specialist, to the blog team for 2016!

Exploring the outdoors is an incredible way to promote development in preschool children. The opportunities to encourage children’s inquiry and learning are endless. Experiences in nature can allow teachers to focus on all developmental domains—including cognitive, social emotional, physical well being, language and literacy, and the child’s approach toward learning. Children are naturally curious; therefore a nature trail is the perfect environment to prompt children to ask questions that lead to higher-level thinking.

Think of the woods as an outdoor classroom. The teacher can call attention to specific items seen on a hiking trail, such as animal homes, rocks, various trees, and plants. Often times in a classroom, teachers ask students to “stop talking” during lessons. While taking a nature walk, children will undoubtedly be inspired to talk to one another, fostering language development. Teachers can ask questions such as, “What do you think birds use to build their nests?” and the children can work together to discuss their hypothesis with other students. Collaboration is one of the keys to successful social emotional development. Successful team work creates a positive climate in the classroom. Students are empowered by the idea that they are explorers working together to get answers. Empathy, another important social emotional skill, can be encouraged in such as teaching children to be gentle with nature and not destroy or damage animal homes.

The opportunities for physical development in nature are endless. Beyond students running, walking, bending and following a trail, teachers can use this time to engage their fine motor skills. Picking up leaves, small rocks, and other small objects enhance children’s ability to use their pincher grasp with their index finger and thumb. Children love the challenge brought by this hands on task.

Items both large and small can be brought back to the classroom to further investigate and examine in depth. Student’s will enjoy activities that allow them to be “scientists” as they compare, contrast and classify items that they have discovered.  Children feel trusted and independent when teachers give them tools and ask them to investigate their findings and report what they see. A love of science grows from learning that exploring can be fun, as well as educational.

Before taking children on a nature walk, I would suggest reading a well-illustrated nature book as an introduction. This provides a great opportunity for children to become familiar with things to look for on the walk. It also allows provides a time to brainstorm with the children about what they already know about nature and what they would like to learn. Teacher’s can take learning to the next level after the walk is completed by placing books in the library relating to things seen on their adventure.

These teachable moments are not limited to preschool teachers; parents can share these same experiences at home with their children. If you do not have access to a nature trail, look no further than your own backyard or school yard for these opportunities to expand your child’s learning. Remember as you create lesson plans for your classroom or plan learning experiences for your child… there is a whole world of possibilities outside waiting to be explored!

Quality early care and education does not take a summer break

There are lots of opportunities for learning through play outdoors in the summer!

Summer is here! I’m sure most programs have several special events and activities planned during these summer months. As a classroom teacher, I remember incorporating some of my favorite activities and field trips during this time. I loved utilizing the outdoors as an extension of my classroom. Children learning through their experiences and building knowledge based on their interactions with nature brought me such joy as an educator. Plus, we were outdoors most of the time. We were enjoying the sunshine while learning new skills, interacting with each other, and building relationships! Summertime is a great opportunity to enhance children’s learning and development—which means high-quality care should not stop. In fact, summer activities provide many hands-on learning opportunities for early childhood programs.

In order to maintain high-quality care and education during the summer months, teachers must continue to focus on best practices. Lesson planning is a major component of best practice. The activities on your lesson plans should be fun and hands-on, but they should also be educational and based on the interests of the children. The activities should be planned according to the developmental levels of your children and challenge them to a higher level of thinking. These activities should promote problem-solving skills both socially and academically. They should help children build upon their previous experiences and comprehension while at the same time encouraging them to create new knowledge. These activities should be intentional.

As you continue to sustain high-quality care and education during the summer months, please remember how important engagement is with the children! The activities you are planning should be built around meaningful interactions with the children. Teachers should see themselves as a valuable teaching tool, not just as a lifeguard or police officer patrolling the playground. Educators should be present and engaging with children to scaffold their learning by making comments and asking open-ended questions. For example, let’s take a closer look at water play. As children engage with water play they are enhancing many cognitive skills involving math and science. When a teacher asks, “I wonder how many cups it will take to fill that bucket?” they are helping that child enhance counting skills and explore measurement.

High-quality care and education is very important for children—during all seasons! Educators should use the summer months to continue to facilitate and promote learning. Though it is tempting to relax and take a break in the nice weather, the quality of your program or quality of your teaching should not decrease because it’s summertime.

Winter playground fun!

Yes, it’s that time of year when it’s COLD, illness is going around, and it gets dark out very early. In fact it’s probably already dark by the time children are being picked up at your programs. But remember, outdoor play is important during this time of year, too! Children benefit from fresh air even when it’s cold outside. Here are some ideas for outdoor activities in the winter, and some tips on keeping the little ones warm!

Winter play activities and tips on keeping children warm!

Winter Activities

—Digging in the snow. No worries if you don’t have “snow shovels.” Tools used for sand/sensory table digging work just as good.

—Painting the snow. Use spray bottles and food coloring with water; children can turn their all white snow-covered playground into a colorful atmosphere.

—Patterns in the snow. Children can use various objects or manipulative toys to create patterns.

—Create tracks in the snow using footprints, rakes, or long sticks. This could even be turned into a follow the leader or guessing game with the children. For example, what object made which track in the snow?

—Bird watching. Since the trees are bare, bird watching becomes very easy. Start saving your empty paper towel rolls so the children make their binoculars first!

—Nature walks or hikes throughout your playground or around the block. Take a camera along to capture those wonderful winter images.

—Feeding winter animals. Create bird feeders for a special activity then allow the children to pick the perfect place their feeder should be placed outside. This is such a great way to demonstrate compassion for other living things and the world around us.

—Scavenger hunts are always fun in any season. This can be a teacher-guided hunt or the children can create their own hunts. Don’t forget to allow time and supply materials children may need to create maps for the hunt prior to heading outdoors.

Keeping children warm:

—Asking parents to provide extra clothes for their child or even donate old clothes for other children. Dressing in layers will help keep children warm.

—Ask parents to bring in an extra pair of shoes or snow boots if you plan to explore snow outdoors. Parents can also donate old shoes or snow boots to keep on hand in the classroom.

—No snow boots, no problem. You can use baggies or Kroger bags as a shoe liner. This will help keep children’s feet dry. If shoes become wet, they’re typically dry by the time nap is over.

—Make hot chocolate. This can even be turned into a math activity as children count their marshmallows!

Please always follow your program’s weather policy and procedures. Remember: children benefit from outdoor activities even if it’s in short time periods.

-Tracy

Embrace outdoor play this spring!

Finally I feel it’s safe enough to say that spring has officially sprung! After a long and grueling winter, I had my doubts. These past few months have been brutal. The cold, the snow, the ice – it felt never-ending! There were many days I felt “blue” as the skies were gloomy and the arctic blast temps chilled me to the core. As an educator I remember the long winter days inside the classroom, desperate to venture outside with my class to take pleasure in warm, beautiful days, hoping my creativity for keeping them safe and sane while indoors all day did not dissipate.

Embrace outdoor play in your ECE program!

On our first day back outside to play after the wicked winter had passed, the children would run and scream with their arms out wide, embracing the new season cheerfully while I lifted my face high toward the soaring sun and felt the fresh air on my skin once again. It was bliss and my soul felt awakened and alive. It was also an exciting time to explore and discover all the things that were waking up in our world. Hearing the birds sing their songs, watching the grass turn from brown to green, smelling the buds on the flowering trees and feeling the amiable wind blow until it finally got warm enough to toss the heavy coats on the ground along the fence as we played.

I challenge you this spring to really think outside the box when it comes to incorporating outside play and our amazing earth into your everyday curriculum and learning. I personally can attest to getting into safe routines and teaching ruts as the years passed, each season just going by with the same habitual customs. It’s easy to pull those old folders out with reliable ideas each spring, incorporating the classic choices of sponge painting flowers or tissue papering a butterfly.

Maybe it’s time to awaken the slumber that your curriculum and classroom may be in as well. Are you eager to teach today, metaphorically ready to run with your arms open wide? Are your students awakened with song and blooming with curiosity and wonder? Are you watching them grow a little greener each day? If not, that’s okay! Today can be the day you decide to challenge yourself and your students to be explorers and learn as you go. Plant seeds of discovery, make messes and maybe even mistakes, but don’t be afraid to do it! If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work! Reassess, make adjustments and try it again. As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Prepare to be amazed at how fresh and invigorating ideas such as planting vegetable gardens, creating bug huts or going on sensory scavenger hunts will guide your teaching and their learning and before you know it, you have tossed the heavy coat of monotony on the ground as you explore, play and learn.

Learning through play… outdoors!

It’s summertime! The weather is warm and the sun is shining from early in the morning to late in the evening. Children in your program are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors. What a great opportunity to enhance their learning!

Extend chldren's learning with outdoor activities... and don't be afraid to take your indoor activities outside!

In the article “Making the Most of Outdoor Time with Preschool Children,” it is stated that “the outdoor space is an extension of the classroom and should be considered another space for learning.” There are tons of activities the children can do outside that promote learning. They can start a garden with flowers, herbs or vegetables. They can identify the different colors they see in plants or animals and the teacher can keep a list of all the things that are each color. They can investigate their shadows: tracing, measuring at different times of the day or playing shadow tag. They can even adopt a tree!

Adopting a tree will be different depending on the age of the children. With infants and toddlers, the teacher can choose a tree to adopt and take the children out to visit it, touch it and talk with the children about the features, such as what the leaves look like, whether the bark is rough or smooth, if there are animals in the tree and if anything changed from the last time it was visited. With preschoolers, the children can choose a tree to adopt and visit it, but may still need guidance to make the experience meaningful. The teacher can ask the children to describe the tree, identify things around the tree, create rubbings of the leaves, experience how the tree changes with the seasons and look through magnifying glasses at bugs on the tree. With school-agers, the children can each choose a tree to adopt, visit it on their own and be given activity ideas to do independently, as well. School-agers can research what type of tree they adopted, draw a map to their tree from the classroom, identify ways they know whether their tree is alive or not, look for evidence of animals (in the past or present) and take photographs of their tree at different times. The teacher can extend the activities by asking open-ended questions about their findings. One activity can span all the various ages!

In addition to doing outdoor activities, you can do indoor activities outdoors, too. Your sand and water table can be moved outside. The children can do art projects, musical experiences and dramatic play outside. Even better, story time can be taken outside, whether it’s reading a book to the children on the grass or allowing them to nestle under a tree with their own book for independent reading!

This is all in conjunction with the physical activities children naturally do outside. It is essential for their healthy growth and development. Why not make that a learning experience, too? Teachers (and children) can time how long it takes the children to run around the play area three times, measure how high they can jump next to the wall and count how many times in a row they hop on one foot, jump rope or hula hoop. It doesn’t have to be a competition between the children, but they can be challenged to beat their own scores.

What kinds of activities do you like doing with the children outdoors? Feel free to share them in the comments!

A Breath of Fresh Air

This past Thanksgiving, my granddaughter went over to the sliding glass window, smiled at me and pointed outside. The next thing I knew she was holding my hand and we were heading outdoors.

She did this several times throughout the day, and we’d always go out for 15 or 30 minutes at a time. At first I felt that I was going outside “for her,” but after awhile I realized I was going outside for me, too. The fresh air was a welcome relief! Together we explored: collecting sticks, watching our scarves blow in the breeze, climbing, running and just enjoying each other’s company. We had more time to talk – and listen! – to each other once we were outside.

Outdoor play is often abbreviated during the colder months, but it doesn’t have to be. Playing outdoors supports all aspects of a child’s development, helps prevent obesity and reduces the spread of illness. Not to mention it feels good just to get out of a stuffy classroom! If you and the children are properly dressed for it, take the fun outside. Blow bubbles, play with hula hoops, have a winter-themed parade with noisemakers or enjoy some dramatic play out of doors by doing a little “yard work.” We’ve written before that there’s no perfect temperature for outdoor play, and it’s true. Head outside! The fresh air will do everyone good.

There’s No Perfect Temperature for Outdoor Play!

With the weather getting cooler, days getting shorter and people spending more time indoors, I’m hearing a lot of excuses to keep children indoors when we should be doing the opposite. I don’t understand why so many early childhood educators do not take children outdoors! It can be 75 degrees with a slight breeze and they say it’s too hot or 50 degrees and sunny and they say it’s too cold. I’ve even heard that “we can’t go out because of licensing!”

There are very few days when weather conditions are so extreme that it’s safer to keep children indoors than to take advantage of the benefits of getting them out. Large muscle coordination is key for early development, and what better place to grow these muscles than outdoors through active movement? Don’t just open the windows and let fresh air in, let the children out! Outdoor activity also combats the childhood obesity epidemic, a concern for many parents and the goal of many programs. And what about the children just running around and letting go a little bit of stress? Our doctors recommend we exercise weekly to reduce stress, and it works for children, too! Physical activity and fresh air go a long way to reducing stress for children and for their caregivers.

So, why are we keeping children indoors? Many people still have the belief that cold weather can make you sick, but anyone who has attended a Communicable Disease training knows better! Bacteria and viruses are the causes of most illnesses. While cold temperatures can lower the body’s temperature and by extension the effectiveness of the immune system, if a person is dressed appropriately and only outdoors for a short period of time (let’s say 10 – 15 minutes) moving around playing, their chances of staying healthy due to not being closed up indoors breathing the same stale air are much greater than their chances of getting sick.

You might be shocked to know that most states, including Ohio, do not have a set temperature for going outdoors. Rule 5101:2-12-14 from Ohio’s Child Care Licensing rules actually states that “the center shall provide outdoor play each day in suitable weather for any toddler, preschool child, and school child.” Though “suitable weather” is not defined, it’s up to the teacher to decide, and a chilly day is not an unsuitable day when a hat, coat, and gloves are involved!

According to the authors of the Environment Rating Scales, a nationally recognized classroom assessment, children should go outside “almost every day, unless there is active precipitation, extremely hot or cold conditions, or public announcement that advise people to remain indoors due to weather conditions such as high levels of pollution and extreme cold or heat that might cause health problems.” We have to challenge the idea that 32 degrees is always extreme. 32 degrees with calm winds or even winds 10 miles per hour is considered acceptable when children are dressed appropriately, so, bundle them up and take them out! It’s good for everyone, even you!