Why brains need fresh air

Child’s play is not just all fun and games; rather the act of play is a crucial component in the growth and development of the brain, body and intellect.

Studies of how young people learn have proven, that children, especially, acquire knowledge experientially, through play, experimentation, exploration and discovery.

Outdoor play teaches children fundamental tasks

Research shows us that many of the fundamental tasks that children must achieve, such as, exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge, can be most effectively learned though outdoor play.

For example, when children move over, under, through, beside, and near objects and others, the child better grasps the meaning of these prepositions and geometry concepts. When children are given the opportunity to physically demonstrate action words as stomp, pounce, stalk, or slither, or descriptive words such as smooth, strong, gentle, or enormous, word comprehension is immediate and long lasting.

The words are used and learned in context, as opposed to being a mere collection of letters. This is what promotes emergent literacy and a love of language. Similarly, if children take on high, low, wide, and narrow body shapes, they’ll have a much greater understanding of these quantitative concepts, than children who are just presented with the words and definitions.

Learning by doing, creates more neural networks in the brain and throughout the body, making the entire body a tool for learning.

Outdoor play improves performance at school

Outdoor play and brain development does not stop once a child enters into school, in fact, outdoor play is equally important for children of all ages. Research and studies show us that active, outdoor, free play can lead to improved academic performance.

Research by Anthony Pellegrini, and Robyn Holmes shows that providing children with outdoor play breaks during the school day maximizes their attention to cognitive tasks. Recess has many benefits in the cognitive, social-emotional and physical domains.

First, children are less fidgety and more on-task when they have recess, and children with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity syndrome) are among those who benefit the most.

Secondly, research on memory and attention shows that recall is improved when learning is spaced out rather than concentrated. Recess provides breaks during which the brain can “regroup”.

Thirdly, brain research shows a relationship between physical activity and the development of brain connections.

Fourthly, on the playground, children exercise leadership, teach games to one another, take turns and learn to resolve conflicts.

Lastly, in a free choice situation, children learn negotiation and conflict resolution skills in order to keep the play going.

Recently, a school in Texas started giving four recess breaks per day. They have discovered that recess is a lot more than a free break after lunch; rather, free, unstructured playtime allows kids to exercise and helps them to focus better when they are in class.

They have discovered after just few weeks, that children are following directions better, attempting to learn more independently, solve problems on their own and have had fewer disciplinary issues.

Barriers to outdoor play at home

Our culture is moving away from outdoor play and children are spending excessive time watching television shows, playing on their tablets or phones, and playing video games.

Today children’s lives are more and more contained and controlled by small apartments, high-stakes academic instruction, schedules, tense, tired and overworked parents, and by fewer opportunities to be children.

Parents are more afraid of letting children roam in a world of heavy traffic, violence, and reports of missing children, than they were twenty years ago. Boundaries for kids used to be measured by blocks or by miles, now the boundaries for most children are the front yard. For many children, the only outdoor play that they receive is at adult managed sporting events.

There is considerable room for improvement in parent-supervised outdoor play, opportunities for infants, toddlers, preschool and school-aged children. Improvements have numerous benefits for young children's physical health and development. Parents are the most important role models and decision makers for their children. They need to be aided and empowered in order to provide ample outdoor active play opportunities for their young children.

Conclusion: let’s increase outdoor play time

There is an alarming trend toward limiting outdoor plan and or recess during the school day.

As advocates of young children we need to share the many important and positive aspects of playing outside and advocate for ample recess opportunities for children.

The act of play is a crucial component in the growth and development of the brain, body and intellect. Studies of how young people learn have proven, that children, especially, acquire knowledge experientially, through play, experimentation, exploration and discovery.

It is important to understand that many of the fundamental tasks that children must achieve, such as, exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge, can be most effectively learned though outdoor play.


This abstract is from: The Importance of Outdoor Play and its Impact on Brain Development in Children, Edgar L. and Rheta A. Berkley Images by Freepik.com