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Day Nursery Outdoor Classroom provides meaningful experiences for preschoolers

Today we feature a guest post by Day Nursery Preschool Specialist Matt Miller who is the lead teacher in the Preschool 2 room at our Day Nursery Hendricks County Early Learning Center in Avon. 

Our Outdoor Classroom is a space on the playground dedicated to meeting the same development areas and core standards expected in a traditional classroom. Think back to where you played as a child. Many of us spent our free time outside! The Outdoor Classroom is our way of taking advantage of the beautiful weather and providing meaningful experiences and activities centered on natural materials, outdoor spaces and the environment.

Why is outdoor play important? There are so many reasons!

Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Learning, believed we should focus on reconnecting children with nature and their environments. Connecting children to the environment teaches children compassion and respect for the environment and for each other. Outdoor learning centers such as the mud kitchen, the gardens and the water exploration tables all provide children with the chance to experience natural elements of our environment within a context with which they are already familiar.

Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids, states many people believe playing indoors is “safer” for children, but children without access to natural play areas are at a greater risk for depression, diabetes and obesity while being less educated about the environment and the natural world around them.

According to a study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well Being by University of Illinois professors Frances Ming Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor, children with regular access to green spaces (i.e., outdoor classrooms, open grass fields, etc.) are less likely to develop ADHD symptoms and tendencies. Their research also shows a substantial and dramatic decrease in symptoms of children previously with ADHD.

Lisa Murphy, Author of Play… and What to Say When the Wolves Come Knocking, discusses the importance of outdoor play in her workshop “Let’s Go Outside!” The Vestibular System (controlling movement and balance) is the first sensorial system to develop (in utero). The Vestibular System is greatly influenced by the inner ear and the position of the head. The RAS (Reticular Activating System) is a nerve system located in the brain stem that, in essence, wakes up the neocortex. It says “Wake up! Something’s coming in!” Now, Proprioception is the body’s sense of itself in space. Proprioceptive Receptors (located in all your muscles) allow us to move, explore our environment and maintain our balance. The Proprioceptive System and the RAS are linked to the Vestibular System. When we do not move and activate the Vestibular System we are NOT taking in information from the environment. Meaning – we will not be ready to learn!
So, when you are playing on the swings, hanging upside down, spinning, walking backwards, skipping, jumping rope, doing somersaults, cartwheels, spinning the swings, flying on a tire swing, jumping off a rock, you are not “just playing outside” you are activating the vestibular system (Murphy, 2008)

Whom is the Outdoor Classroom for? We created the Outdoor Classroom for all preschool aged children at Day Nursery Hendricks County with the hopes of adding it as a permanent part of our program.

The teachers and administrators of Day Nursery Hendricks County strive to provide the highest quality Early Care and Education experiences possible for our students. The construction, execution and facilitation of the Outdoor Classroom is just the latest example of this goal.

Now, in the words of the great Lisa Murphy, “Let’s Go Outside!”

See ya in the backyard,


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