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The Outdoor Classroom

Latest research shows that spending periods of time outdoors builds children’s imagination, social/emotional skills, physical health and improves classroom behaviour.  This in turn impacts their cognitive abilities, and academic performance.   Young children learn through moving their bodies, and the outdoors is a perfect environment to support this body mind connection.Observing the SK children, I have noticed how well they can work collaboratively and creatively once outdoors.  The past two weeks the children have been building on to an outdoor miniature ice rink created by the older children.  They excitedly hunt for blocks of ice, some quite heavy and needing a friend to carry them to the rink.  They discuss, negotiate, plan, share and listen to others ideas.  All important life skills, they can carry forward into new situations. It is an opportunity for them to connect and build on to others ideas.  Using ‘tools’ is something that brings joy to them all.  Recess provides them with the opportunity to develop close relationships, through play, with their peers.I notice how accepting they are as they wait for a ‘tool’ to become available for them to use. Snowball and snowbrick makers are things they willingly share with others. A wide range of social competencies are learned and practised naturally through their play, such as cooperation, empathy, turn taking, conflict resolution  and respect for rules.  Their drive for acceptance as part of a group is leading them into learning more social behaviours and ways to develop these social relationships.  Seeing the effect of their own actions in relations to others is immediately made visible to them.  Self- knowledge and self- acceptance is thus strengthened. Social and emotional competencies are developed in relationship with others they come in contact with. The need to run is also evident.  A soccer ball flies daily around the play area.  A ‘tribe’ of children in its’ wake.  They remember to play in a specific area.  This allows them again to practise impulse control and develop their sportsmanship (both attitudinally and physically.) It is a time for the children to relax, to navigate their immediate environment safely, and to take the risk of exploring and trying out new things.  It also enhances the amount of blood flow to the brain, which in turn, “Provides brain cells with a healthier supply of natural substances; these substances enhance brain growth and help the brain make a greater number of connections between neurons.” (Healy, 1998).Their time outside together is an invaluable time. This mental change of pace and availability of larges spaces to release energy, leads them to be more settled and focussed, once they return into the classroom. It is one of the few times during their days when all developmental domains can be supported at the same time.

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