For preschoolers, it’s fun to be outside any time of year, but it’s especially appealing when the weather warms up. Just because most early childhood education happens indoors, though, doesn’t mean it stops during outdoor playtime. At The Gardner School, we’re intentional about promoting a healthy balance of learning combined with recreation. Here’s a look at some of the ways The Gardner School facilitates outdoor playtime, as well as some important ways outdoor recreation affects a child’s learning.
The Gardner School and Recreation
The Gardner School has multiple gross motor play areas catered to both age and weather. Our suburban locations have engaging playgrounds, as well as indoor gross-motor rooms or covered play areas that lead out to the playground. Our schools located within the city of Chicago visit nearby parks twice a day (weather permitting) and even venture out for a neighborhood walk if the schedule allows. For inclement weather, they have indoor play rooms equipped for fun! With careful planning, our teachers ensure that all our classrooms have two gross motor play times each day. “We have a plethora of equipment and outdoor activities on hand that children and teachers can use at any time,” says Monica Zins, Director at The Gardner School of Dublin.
Outdoor Recreation and Learning
The Gardner School staff ensures that students are getting outside to take in some fresh air and release energy. Karina Cadiz, Director at The Gardner School of Lincoln Park says, “Outdoor playtime is a very important part of a child’s development. Children need time to explore, get fresh air, and develop gross-motor skills, such as balance and coordination.” We believe outdoor recreation is incredibly important to a child’s development, as it allows children to move their bodies in ways the classroom does not allow. “Children tend to be more relaxed outdoors, in what seems as an unstructured environment, and they also tend to be open to new ideas,” added Zins. As students experience outdoor activities that exert their bodies, such as running, throwing, pushing, and pulling, their minds can then focus back on learning and academics, while their bodies recover and rest. It’s a beautiful balance.
Outdoor Play and Safety at The Gardner School
When it comes to outdoor play, The Gardner School emphasizes safety above all. We encourage our children and families to bring a water bottle so children can have full access to water inside and especially outside the classrooms. We also apply sunscreen to each student prior to going outdoors. Parents can choose from school-purchased sunscreen, or they can provide their own. Children must wear closed toed-shoes with a backing, and we always encourage healthy handwashing as children return to the classroom from outdoor play. “Especially in our city schools where playgrounds are off-site, safety is of the utmost importance,” affirms Cadiz. At these schools, students wear bright yellow vests with The Gardner School’s logo that makes them even more visible to teachers. Infants and toddlers travel in a buggy to the park, and our older students stroll holding on to a walking rope.
Outdoor Playtime at Home
Outdoor play is also important for children at home, as it is also a great bonding experience for children and their families. “Children will often take the games, activities, and explorations they talked about or experienced at school and share those with their families,” says Cadiz. Even the simplest indoor recreation activities can be a whole new adventure when taken outside, including puzzles, books, cars, blocks, and more. We encourage families to enjoy the fresh air, relax, and have fun outdoors at home when possible. “As the weather gets warmer, more and more families will be headed to the park. With that said, many germs can be shared at the park. Parents should keep this in mind and make sure children wash hands immediately after playing at the park to prevent illness,” says Zins.
As an academically-focused preschool, we know that some of the best learning can happen while having fun. For children to properly learn, develop, and grow, a healthy balance of learning and recreation is essential, outdoors or inside. In our eyes, outdoor play is A-OK!