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Where's the exhilaration? Get your kids outside!

Sharon Bennet
As adults, many of us remember our childhood as a time spent roaming our neighborhoods, playing outdoors until suppertime, and, most significantly, a seeming lack of adult supervision. Today, many parents don’t allow their own children the same freedoms; now children play indoors, on sports teams or in organized activities, and spend a lot of time on screens. If children are outdoors, they’re typically supervised on playgrounds or in backyards. At a recent Play Outside Nova Scotia presentation, BC Children’s Hospital Risk and Injury Prevention Investigator Dr. Mariana Brussoni lamented that our overly-protected children are no longer given the freedom to self-regulate, to make decisions, engage in risky adventures, experience the natural world through all their senses, develop resilience, explore their creativity, take responsibility, or be free to just play. She suggests: “We need to remember what exhilaration feels like.”    
We couldn’t agree more. When we first saw our glorious new climbing structure two years ago, we declared it too big with too many daunting features for us to manage. How were we going to stop our littlest students from moving between what we considered safe spaces and unsafe spaces? But as we thought about it further we realized that unless we were prepared to manage hours of play with a litany of “no’s” and a long list of rules, we had to change our mindset. We decided to introduce the play structure with the following message: “Some of it will be just right for you and some of it will be too big for you. It’s up to you to decide what’s just right, and what’s too big.” To our delight, that’s exactly what they did.  

Our students, left to their own devices, allowed to reason, plan, try, fail, try again and succeed, test their own limits, observe others, and to think critically and creatively, have successfully used the play structure in ways we couldn’t have imagined. It’s been amazing to watch. But it’s not just the play structure. We also spend hours exploring the “forest” in our Courtyard, digging up worms, moving rocks, carrying and balancing on logs, creating imaginary worlds among the bushes. On many days, we simply enjoy experiencing the fresh air, sunshine on our faces, wind and rain against our bodies, and cold snow melting in our warm hands. 

A recent study on the impact of outdoor play by the Real Play Coalitionfound that because children are spending most of their free time indoors they are less fit, tend to be overweight, weaker, less flexible, sicker, show increased mental health issues and developmental deficiencies, are more often nearsighted/myopic, and show a decrease in creative thinking when compared to children in the 1990’s. A 2015 report by Public Health Canada acknowledged that children’s lifestyles today pose a significant threat to their health, development, and well-being: "Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks—is essential for healthy child development.”

All of this research and knowledge is a crucial reminder to do what’s right for the benefit of our students now, which will benefit our society in the future. Not only do we know that play is the best way for young children to learn, we know that outdoor play is even more beneficial as an all-encompassing tool for stress management, developing resilience through experiences of change and challenge, improving physical literacy, forming foundational executive function skills, and engaging environmental awareness. Which is why our Elementary School has three outdoor recesses per day, and our Junior Primary students typically spend 2½ hours outdoors daily.

There’s nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by creating and maximizing outdoor learning opportunities. So get your children outside! They will be smarter, stronger, healthier and happier - maybe even exhilarated - as a result.
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5820 Spring Garden Rd
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada
B3H 1X8
(902) 422-4459