As parents, we have a lot of power when it comes to getting our kids off the couch and out the front door. It can be as simple as turning off the television and shooing them out. They may complain at bit, but once they are out in the fresh air, they usually get with the program and enjoy themselves. But while we can insist on outdoor time when our children are home, there’s not much we can do when they are at school.
In many public schools, the amount of time devoted to recess has shrunk or, in some cases, disappeared completely. Students spend their entire days chained to their desks being taught to the test. And then come home with even more work to do. But according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation, if school administrators really want to get best out of their students, the should unchain them and give them some time in the great outdoors.
The report, Back to School: Back Outside, finds that spending time outdoors both during school and at home helps kids become better learners and, in turn, score higher on those all-important standardized tests. Spending time outdoors improves classroom behavior, increases motivation and enthusiasm and results in better performance in math, science, reading and social studies.
Some educators get this. An earlier survey of nearly 2,000 teachers found that 78% believe that kids who spend time outdoors enjoying unstructured play are better able to concentrate and perform when they return to the classroom. 75% say that kids who regularly spend time outdoors are more creative and better problem solvers.
At my child’s elementary school, the teachers are allowed to take their classes outdoors for thirty minutes a day if they choose. Many of them just don’t. Maybe they are worried about being sued over swingset injuries, but I doubt it. I think for many, they just don’t want to deal with the hassle of going outside with their students. If it’s hot, cold or in any way inconvenient or uncomfortable, they stay in and play games at their desks.
I think that like lunch and bathroom breaks, recess should be required – especially in the lower grades where physical education classes are often a once-a-week deal. The list of benefits of outdoor play go on and on and have been documented in study after study. So, why aren’t educators getting the message?
For tips and tools on getting your child to spend more time outdoors, check out the NWFs “Be Out There” campaign. And maybe pass it on to your child’s school as well.
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