Here at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, we’ve been buzzing to discuss this topic with you! 

Often in life, the simplest solution is best, and for improving cognition in children, it’s true. As educators, we’ve all heard of the concept of a “Brain Break” — a quick, usually unscheduled activity to help your class refocus in the middle of a lesson. 

What would happen if we allowed more time for these brain breaks throughout the day, outside of the classroom and in nature? 

You’d be surprised at the level of learning that takes place during times of highest physical activity. Sixty minutes of activity helps children retain what they’re learning, focus more easily on tasks and exhibit faster cognitive processing (Education Week, 2019).

In a sense, a game of duck-duck-goose on the playground contributes more than one might think to the bedrock of a child’s education. Yes, it’s true, recess or dedicated outdoor learning periods are when the real magic of learning happens. The power of the playground is that it doesn’t teach a child what to think, it teaches them how to think by putting the structured classroom learning experiences aside and giving children the opportunity to engage in free play — the kind of play where adults take a back seat. In doing so, students are naturally guided towards a path of inquiry-based learning while fostering lifelong skills such as independence, critical thinking and self-regulation. 

Consider this…

Learning beyond the classroom

Beyond the walls of the classroom there is a world waiting to be discovered by young minds. Preparing our children for today’s fast-paced society involves the encouragement of lifelong learning skills. Outdoor free play fosters the idea that learning is ongoing and not just restricted to inside the classroom walls. 

Inventive, creative and innovative students

Outdoor free play promotes creativity through the use of unconventional learning materials. Instead of using primary colour paints and plastic coins, students will look to nature and instead paint using mud, or barter with rocks. Creative thinking is at play when children are undistracted from conventional learning materials and must only use what is provided to them by nature to create their own learning experiences. These children become more innovative adults and impactful members of our communities.

Healthy social lives

Free play encourages the development of positive social skills. Away from adult supervision, and in an environment that is less crowded, children are more likely to join into games and interact with those who they normally wouldn’t. Without the constant stimulation of a structured learning environment, children are given the opportunity to freely and openly engage with their peers without distraction.

Independent, reason-based decision making

Free play also encourages independence — without close adult supervision, children learn self-regulation skills like taking turns, picking themselves up when they fall and the use of unfamiliar equipment. Children are able to flourish as self-sustaining individuals while learning skills such as reason-based decision making and risk assessment.

Pushing boundaries

Learning how to properly assess risk and take calculated action to test the limits of their capabilities are skills that transfer into all aspects of life. Different than hazardous play, risky play equips children with the necessary skills to innovate, invent and push the envelopes of their respective industries years down the road.

Teacher’s Tip: Take a break too! 

Just like children, you’ll benefit just as much from a little unscheduled free play outside doing what you enjoy. These principles of learning are not just reserved for children; while the children enjoy a little time to let their minds wander, do the same. When everyone comes back into the classroom, you and your class will be refreshed and ready to go.

For more information on professional development and workshops, please visit our education section.

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