Taking ‘Playing in Nature’ to the Next Level

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”  – Albert Einstein

I remember running around barefoot in my neighborhood as a child. We created forts in our backyard, climbed trees, and played “Ghosts in the Graveyard” until dark. Things were different 30 years ago. We didn’t have electronics, iPads, or cell phones. Our parents relied on outdoor play, allowing us to use our imaginations to create, connect and become very comfortable with nature. I remember the smell of the crisp fall breezes and watching tulips blossom in our front yard at the start of spring. It was a very special time to grow up and to be honest I am so glad that I didn’t grow up with electronic distractions. Now as a mother and educator I feel strongly about inspiring this generation to have the same experiences. It is important to allow our children to feel inspired by the beauty that surrounds them. 

CMP students on playground

Here at CMP we recently purchased large wooden outdoor block playsets and plan on creating outdoor classrooms and mud kitchens on all of our playgrounds. We feel that it is a priority for our children to experience the outdoors as much as possible as well as play with objects made from wood, metal and alternative materials recycled from nature. Some of our staff started Outdoor Classroom training and are excited to share their knowledge with the rest of the staff. We are working towards becoming an Outdoor Classroom demonstration site and have plans to enhance outdoor learning opportunities for all of our children here at Carmel Mountain Preschool. 

Recent research shows that children are not spending enough quality time in the outdoors. Lack of outdoor play leads to obesity, weak core body strength, attention deficient disorders, and depression. Our children deserve the same freedom that we had in the past; to play, express themselves, learn to explore, and to respect, protect and observe nature. 

Preschool students with large wood building blocks on playground

Benefits of Nature

  • After connecting with nature, children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate.
  • Connection and contact with nature help children score higher on tests and assists in better concentration and self-discipline.
  • Children who play regularly in natural environments show advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance, and agility. They are also sick less often.
  • Playing in natural environments instills imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills.
  • Social interaction between children is stimulated after playing in natural environments.
  • Cognitive development, reasoning, and observational skills improve after exposure to natural environments.

2 cute kids in wood wheelbarrel

The CMP Outdoor Classroom Objectives

  • Meet health challenges by establishing a pattern of ongoing, vigorous and extended physical activity.
  • Foster learning through self-initiation, control, and personal responsibility.
  • Achieve social and emotional mastery and build communication skills through projects and group activity.
  • Build a healthy, balanced, internal psychology with time spent alone.
  • Develop an interest in science and math through connecting with nature.
  • Create a successful learning environment for the active learner.
  • Manifest classroom harmony.

CMP students playing with outdoor woodblocks on playground

The Role of Teachers and Parents

Parents and teachers can find fun and easy ways to incorporate nature into everyday life.

  • Nature hikes: Collect found natural objects and tinker or create a collage with these items. Use these objects to practice counting, sorting, and dramatic play.
  • Observation: Bring natural objects into the classroom or home. Talk about how the objects smell, feel, taste and sound. Practice drawing or painting the objects.
  • Scent: Use herbs such as lavender, sage, oregano, and rosemary as centerpieces or allow the children to try and sort and organize them by using their sense of smell.
  • Plant something: Create your own garden. Start by simply planting a seed. Teach the children to water and nurture the plant as it grows. If space allows, create a community garden and eat and cook with the vegetables and herbs grown.

Have Fun in Nature

  • Allow your time in nature to be organic and playful. Go for a hike, explore, and observe.
  • Be a role model for your children; get excited about seeing a bugs, birds, animals, and bark on a tree. They will be mimic your enthusiasm and excitement about the simple things found in nature.
  • Create connections — What are your children interested in? Collect books and read stories about topics found in nature and relate it back to an observation found in nature.
  • Experiences in nature lay the foundation for learning, memory, and an emotional response to beauty.  
  • Find the meaning and joy in the outdoors and inspire your children for a lifelong desire to learn, question, problem solve and explore what nature has to offer.

Here are some of the CMP students enjoying our new large wooden outdoor block playsets.

Preschool boy playing with large woodblock outdoor set

CMP student having fun with outdoor woodblock playset on playground

Carmel Mountain Preschool boys having fun with large outdoor wood block playset

CMP kids outdoor woodblocks

2 kids playing wood wheelbarrel

Carmel Mountain Preschool nature play with wood block playset

This blog was written by Carmel Mountain Preschool Master Artist & Art Studio Teacher, Julie Goldstein.

If you enjoyed this post we invite you to read our blog, “Reuse, Reduce and Recycle…Into Fine Art.”

Carmel Mountain Preschool provides a safe and caring environment with hands-on, developmentally-appropriate programs for children. We also offer excellent care for elementary school-age students with our before and after school programs. CMP is located at 9510 Carmel Mountain Road, San Diego, CA 92129, situated between 4S Ranch, Rancho Peñasquitos, Carmel Valley, and Santaluz. For more information, please visit our website or contact us at 858.484.4877.

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