An authentic Montessori education includes time in the outdoors for work and play, both of which are integral to a child’s development. A vast body of research from paediatricians and biological researchers support the many benefits of children spending time outside, especially in this age of decreased physical activity and increased screen use.
Human beings are happier and healthier when we are connected to the outdoors. In her lifetime, Maria Montessori observed that “when children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” Children, whose brains, bodies, emotions, and immune systems are still developing, benefit enormously from regular unstructured time in the fresh air. This developmental need does not change even when the weather turns colder, but it takes a little more effort on our part to get outside.
Benefits of Outdoor Play
- Exposure to Sunshine We need sunshine to produce Vitamin D, which plays a critical part in immunity and overall health. Additionally, sunshine has a role in elevating mood. In the winter months, we spend less time outside overall, so making a habit of getting some sun exposure and fresh air as often as possible is important.
- Increased Immune Health Multiple studies have demonstrated that children who spend more time outdoors have stronger immune systems. While viruses are prevalent during the winter, they are more concentrated indoors where people are gathered together. One 2017 study in the Biomedical Journal demonstrated that outdoor play invites contact with “harmless microbes” that support biodiversity, disease prevention, and overall immune health. In fact, some of the children in this study with chronic respiratory and skin problems exhibited decreased symptoms when their outdoor playtime increased.
- Enhanced Brain and Body Development Outdoor play encourages gross motor movement, which not only strengthens growing muscles, improves lung capacity and expends energy, but also improves executive function: that critical ability people need to control impulses, self-regulate, appreciate consequences, and plan ahead. Movement outdoors helps children integrate the information they’ve acquired during daily lessons in the classroom. One study of Norwegian children demonstrated that children’s learning opportunities and physical performance increase when they were able to play in outdoor environments with physical diversity—rocks to climb, water to cross, trees to climb, etc. Not only do outdoor environments attract children’s play, they also invite opportunities to consolidate knowledge and develop new skills.
- Increased Confidence Running and playing outdoors helps children develop confidence in their bodies and themselves. An increasing trend of adult fear in regards to childhood play has eliminated some risk-taking behaviours that actually invite children to challenge themselves and master new skills. Meanwhile, a growing body of research shows that unstructured play in natural environments that invite some level of risky play promotes “important skills related to persistence, entrepreneurship, self-knowledge and problem-solving.” Additionally, this unstructured and creative outdoor time has been shown to offer benefits that may be protective against the effects of pressure and stress on children.
- Socialization Unstructured time on the playground gives children an opportunity to experiment with social behaviors. Over time they begin to understand what works—and what doesn’t—in the complexities of a social setting. Research on the outdoor play not only shows that prosocial behaviours develop between children when adults do not intervene in their creative play, but also that parent-child relationship are strengthened when time together is centred around outdoor activities.
Dressing for the Weather
Of course, winter weather requires more attention to clothing, outdoor temperatures, and wind chill in order to prepare children for appropriate cold-weather play. At CMS, we generally take the children outside, at least for a few minutes, when the combined temperature and wind chill is 28 degrees Fahrenheit or above, with caution taken per the guidelines of the Missouri Department of Health.
When the weather is cold, children need to dress appropriately. Though it may seem easy to use one bulky coat to help your child stay warm, the Missouri Department of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest instead that children should wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing. As a rule of thumb, the AAP suggests that young children and toddlers should wear one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. Additionally, insulated winter coats, gloves or mittens, hats and ear coverings allow the children to enjoy the outdoors safely and happily.
Please help your children remember to bring winter clothing appropriate to the weather to school each day so they can enjoy the many benefits of playing outside.