Deepen into Play: The Need for Kids to Engage the More-Than-Human World
By Jennifer Hector
As the weather changes from the cool of winter to the warmer days of spring, encourage and engage your kids in extended outdoor play in more-than-human surroundings. Abandon the asphalt, plastic climbing structures, rubber ground cover and flat surfaces. Head to higher ground or at least variations of ground with trees, streams, hills, mud, grasses, curvy trails, boulders, sand and wilds of all kinds.
The mental and physical health benefits of extended outdoor play are numerous. The opportunities for outdoor free play are limited in a school-aged child’s daily routine. Often they consist of two 15-20min breaks in a man-made environment structured with asphalt, tan bark and plastic play structures that offer little challenge, little creative engagement with the world and each other. These brief encounters just barely begin to engage kids’ bodies and minds. Even if they manage to dip into imagination or problem solving, the bell rings and it’s time to head back into the confines of a desk and auditory, motionless learning. Kids need movement in all planes as they are developing to strengthen the balance system, the vestibular system, which is critical to support every other sense in the body and particularly for cultivating the capacity to attend and learn.
Playing in natural settings with peers and family without man-made intervention opens opportunities to engage all the senses- climbing on rocks, branches, over stream beds and soft earthen paths, taking risks, helping each other figure out challenges, touching many textures, smelling many smells enlivens body and mind and regulates the nervous system.
Extended free play offers time for kids to not only engage their imagination, creativity, and problem solving, but activates their whole sensory system who’s health and development is primary to learning and over all well-being. So this Spring get out into the woods or beaches! Play and romp in open spaces and new places filled with enlivening opportunities for deep engagement and health for the whole family!