As a child, I grew up spending most of my daylight moments outdoors. The opportunity to play in the mud, explore the differences in tree leaves, figuring out how to solve conflicts with friends, as well as listening to sounds of animals in the neighborhood were moments I will never forget. It helped me develop a strong sense of awareness, good social-emotional development as well as all the developmental skills I needed to be successful in life. I believe days spent outdoors is still important to help promote developmental skills young children need.
Playgrounds are a young child’s paradise, but not all playgrounds are equally beneficial to the developmental needs they have. For example, the elaborate fancy traditional playgrounds painted with the bright primary colors made of hard plastic or metal capture the child’s attention but lack some important features. First, they channel the learning of the child to the intended purpose of the equipment. Just as young children love invent games with the boxes that held their birthday presents, a natural outdoor environment encourages inventive play. In addition, young children are able to cultivate a joy for learning when they have the opportunity to engage in natural outdoors learning environments. When the outdoor environment is able to strengthen the physical, cognitive, social-emotional, communicative and sensory disabilities needs of children, then that playground is a rich learning environment, with endless exploration and discovery.
For Montessori children, outdoor learning environments are extensions of their indoor learning environment. Where there may be some limitations indoors, such as hearing the call sound of birds, students will have the opportunity to listen to sounds of birds in their natural habitat. The joy of learning about the life cycle of plants and insects are far more tangible when watched in nature than looking in a book. The light in a child’s eyes is priceless when they discover a chrysalis on a branch. They are eager to return to that same spot every day in hopes of watching the butterfly erupt from its chrysalis. Another aspect the outdoor learning environment offers is a large space for physical movements. Indoors group time movements with songs are fun, but in the outdoor environment running, climbing and jumping activities are intensify because of the large amount of space it provides. When ample time is allowed the students learn how to solve conflict, cooperate with each other, explore, ponder and discuss ideas in order to discover together. Unlike traditional playgrounds that have the same colors, materials and activities every day, natural playgrounds change every day alone with the seasons. The children are able to see the changes in leaves and trees. These are just a few experiences students will have by providing a nature outdoor learning environment.
Having an outdoor learning environment provides the wonders of life while meeting the academic goals and developmental skills young children need. Allowing young children to spend time outdoors is not only about playing outdoors, but it is a learning environment. Offering this time in a natural learning environment provides teaching materials that money cannot buy.