I can remember my own grade school experience like it was yesterday. I would run the block-and-a-half from school to home, access the key my parents kept under the mat for us, let myself in, drop my messenger-style book bag on the floor, and go to the kitchen for some cookies and juice – a quick sugar rush before taking out my homework and zooming through it in 10 minutes flat. And then that welcome moment of freedom would wash over me – no more pencils, no more books…the afternoon was mine! I could do as I pleased, and that meant getting OUTSIDE where all the children were. There were 55 children on my block, and we all relished the time we had together outside where we figured out the world through the games we played and the adventures we created.. As I remember it, the afternoon was at least as long as the school day. There was a kind of balance to life – work and play each had their rightful place, with neither overpowering the other.
As we all know, those days are over! Schedules and “stranger danger” have done their part to erode that freedom, but perhaps the biggest culprit of all is the dreaded screen! Current statistics suggest that children spend between 5-7 hours a day in front of a screen, leaving little room for fresh air and the great outdoors. The vast majority of American children spend as few as 30 minutes outdoors each day. The physical benefits of outdoor play are well established. According to the National Wildlife Federation “Be Out There” campaign, outdoor play is necessary for the development of a healthy mind, body and spirit. (Read more here: http://www.nwf.org/be-out-there/why-be-out-there/health-benefits.aspx
The statistics related to childhood obesity and the rise in pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants and ADHD are, quite frankly, frightening. A recent NPR article about new research out of the University of California suggests that all of this screen time is resulting in our children’s inability to accurately read human emotions. (Read more here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/08/28/343735856/kids-and-screen-time-what-does-the-research-say
). In short, we are growing more disconnected from one another and are becoming more isolated and sedentary.
Our shared faculty summer read, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, gave all of us a lot to think about in terms of getting children out in nature as much as possible and reaffirmed our commitment to outdoor play at All Saints. Unless the weather is dangerously cold, we will be getting children outdoors for recess each and every day. All parents are asked to do their part and to make sure their children are dressed appropriately for the weather. Good, sturdy shoes are an absolute must – children need to be able to run and climb without danger of falling as a result of inappropriate footwear.
Our summer retreat focused on the role nature plays in education, and through our work together, faculty and admin have come up with a number of nature-related initiatives that will be piloted this year. I know the teachers are eager to share some of the ways in which they hope to strengthen this aspect of our program. In the meantime, please watch this 16-minute video about the benefits of natural play in the great outdoors, and be inspired to consider ways your family might be more intentional about making sure our children’s lives are healthy and balanced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsIYWEodnz0