Go Outside and Play!
By Monica Van Aken, Ed. D, Head of School
Propelled by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, a burgeoning movement seeks to reconnect students with nature. At Milwaukee Montessori School, the link is already well understood. Our students have recess regularly and train outdoors for most athletics. Our toddlers are outdoors daily until the weather becomes too cold, and our afterschool programs head outdoors every single day.
We have always appreciated the importance of outdoor play, but recent studies show that it may be even more beneficial than previously believed. Consider the following areas affected by outdoor play:
- Vision: One recent study showed that children who spent several hours playing outside each day had dramatically reduced rates of nearsightedness compared to children who spent much shorter amounts of time outside. This difference could not be accounted for by amount of time reading or working with computers.
- Concentration: Schools that have cut back on recess have already seen a negative correlation with classroom performance, supporting claims that time spent outdoors leads to improved attention and concentration, key factors in academic success.
- Character Development: According to child psychologist and BBC producer, Tessa Livingstone, children who are “allowed to play and explore outside are likely to be more adventurous, self-motivated and better able to understand risk when they grow up."
- Benefits of Laughter: Livingstone also discovered that children who play outside laugh more. Laughter has been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve muscle function, and even strengthen the body's immune system.
- Exercise: It is clear that many American children do not get enough exercise. Outdoor playing allows children to exercise vigorously in fun and unstructured ways. Many parents have noticed that MMS students are fit, fast, and healthy. While fully 35% of American students are overweight or obese, this is not so at MMS!
We do not limit our outdoor experiences to play; students are also active in protecting our green spaces. For example, upper elementary students have adopted a stretch of beach along the lake where they clean up trash, clear invasive species, and test water quality using kits from the Great Lake Alliance. Positive connections such as this promote environmental stewardship: “It’s just common sense that people will fight to protect a place only if they have had a chance to get to love it,” contends Doug Walker, the new chairman of The Wilderness Society's Governing Council.
At MMS we believe that providing a multitude of outdoor experiences helps our graduates to move on as healthy, happy teens who are also committed to promoting and protecting our nation’s and world’s natural treasures.