Friday, October 16, 2009

Staying Healthy and Using the Outdoors

Physical fitness is becoming a part of many preschool curriculums and state early learning standards. Some of the findings show that simply having pathways for children to walk on keeps them moving and increases fitness levels. To help create pathways that keep children moving, the outdoor play area can simply have stepping stones going from one learning center to the next. There are other types of activities that can also be used as connectors such as multi-level balance beams, stepping pods, or a simple chalk line to walk on.
Programming our children into sports or simply providing 30 minutes of physical fitness exercise has not worked in improving our children’s health. The main difference between children today and children in the past is that children in the past moved continuously: walking from one friend’s house to another, playing in the neighborhood, etc. They were not necessarily running and jumping, just moving all day long. So creating outdoor environments that keep them moving is the best thing we can do for their health.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Create a City Outdoors

A preschool playground is a great place to set up a city. Creating a city outdoors is a wonderful thing that can be done simply with cardboard boxes. Children can decorate the boxes and cut out doors and windows. Then you can put these items along your bike path. Name your streets and label them, which will help with literacy. By using signs such as crosswalk, stop, railroad, and yield signs, children will have an opportunity to meet the early learning standard of recognizing environmental print. Take chalk outside and have children actually chalk crosswalks and parking spaces onto your concrete surfaces. They can even create a wheelchair spot, mimicking real life parking lots. Have fun with your bike path and incorporate it into your playground as if it were a city street. Let me hear your comments about unique things you have done with your bike path.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall outdoor Activities.

This is a great time of year to start a nature science corner on your playground. This is a place in the fall to collect everything that is falling to the ground, such as leaves sticks. Have children use magnifying glass to investigate these fall objects. In the nature center allow them to sort and classify leafs by different characteristics. This is a form of math and meets many states early learning standards.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Can you create a woodworking center outdoors?

Absolutely! Woodworking is a great part of the preschool curriculum. To help bring the outdoors alive, you can set up a small workbench and a few simple tools for children to use. Several programs I work with begin their woodworking curriculum right after Halloween every year. They take their leftover pumpkins and use them as something soft to hammer nails into for the first time. Large head roofing nails are easy nails to target with a hammer. When children master this they can move on to wood. At The Adventurous Child we also recommended that people use Styrofoam and golf tees as a beginning way to practice targeting and woodworking with children. I recommend having a woodworking center outdoors simply because it is a very noisy, very dusty activity, so the noise and dust can be left outdoors.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Can literacy be taught in the outdoor classroom?

There are many ways to bring literacy outside. Simply labeling and naming everything allows children to practice whole language. Have children make their own signs and tape them onto objects. One of my favorite things has been watching children journal outdoors and seeing what they view in the world versus what I view in the world. They tend to be more interested in the small spiders, squirrels and other creatures in the environment, where an adult tends to look more at the overall scenery.

Another way to provide literacy outdoors is using bookcases and art cases. A bookcase is simply anything that you create that is watertight and can be left outdoors so that children can access books or art supplies to do journaling or tell stories. The Adventurous Child actually has a bookcase/art case which is watertight and lockable with padlocks. Send me your ideas or comment on this blog with ideas of things that you could label outdoors, etc.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Music and the Outdoors

The Adventurous Child believes children benefit from music in the outdoor classroom. The main problem we find with doing music outdoors is that the instruments have to be made in such a way that vandals cannot damage or destroy the sounds the instruments make. Many playground musical instruments are not tuned and do not have contrasting sounds. This defeats the purpose of having music outside. Creating a chime panel that has a full scale and where each pipe on the panel is tuned allows children to hear the correct note and for a musically inclined person to actually play a song. For drums or drum panels, having contrasting sounds between each drum allows the children to discriminate between the sounds. Using flat aluminum bars, properly tuned, to create a xylophone is another excellent way to give children real instruments outdoors. Providing music outdoors helps create a classroom environment and adds interesting activities for children to use.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why do children find the outdoors boring?

Inside, we tend to have lots of manipulatives for children: things that they can move and build with and adjust and change. When we take our children outdoors, we only provide them with static gross motor equipment or other static play items. Without manipulatives, the children quickly become bored and make manipulatives out of whatever they can find in the environment, such as turning a stick into a gun. Some ideas for manipulatives would be tubes through which the children can drop balls, sticks or any other objects they find and play with. Create a tracking panel or a gravel panel that children can drop objects down. A sand table, loaded with shovels and buckets so children can build and manipulate the sand, provides hours of enjoyment. Anything that can be used outdoors that will allow children to build and move and reshape their environment will create hours of interest and reduce supervision problems.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can math be done better outdoors than indoors?

During the preschool years, a lot of math deals with classifying and categorizing objects into groups and sets. What better place than the outdoors to classify natural items such as grass, rocks, sticks, leaves and any other items that can be manipulated. An example would be a box full of rocks. If children are provided with a pile of rocks of different and varying sizes, they could use it to meet the early learning standards by taking rocks and sorting them by size, shape, color, weight, etc. Once they have classified their rocks, they could actually break them into sets of similar items, and add and subtract rocks from the sets. I have been amazed over the years observing children who know nothing about early learning standards, who do not know anything about math, but are simply sitting and playing and they naturally sort and classify rocks or any other object. The Adventurous Child provides a container called a Truck Pit, which holds ⅜” diameter pea gravel and smaller, for children to do exactly this. Please contact me or comment on other things that you know children can manipulate outdoors and how they use it to practice the early learning standards and math.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What can be done better outdoors than indoors? Part 2

Loud, noisy items are wonderful things to use outdoors. Children do not have to use their quiet indoor voices; they can whoop and holler and express themselves in different ways out on the playground than they can indoors. Musical instruments are a wonderful thing outside. They emit soft and loud noises and allow children to express themselves using different tools that make sounds. Large drum sets on the playground that make deep, bass sounds create both a sensory input from vibration of the instrument as well as the sound. Drums can also be make from pots and pans that may be in your cooking area. Chime panels and xylophones provide another opportunity for children to actually play and hear the notes in a full scale. There are many Early Learning Standards that are met by allowing children to use musical instruments and play and make loud sounds and noises. A good reference for which Early Learning Standards are met by using musical instruments is on The Adventurous Child’s web site. What ways have you seen children make sounds outdoors?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What can be done better outdoors than indoors?

For today’s blog, I am going to focus on messy things and why it is so much better to do them outdoors. I think of a preschool art easel and how much work teachers go to indoors, taping newspaper on the walls and the floors to make sure if children splatter paint or spill things, they can easily clean up the space. Outdoors, if we are using a biodegradable paint, there is no need for this. We can simply let the paint hit the grass and biodegrade. Also, when it comes to clean up with an outdoor art easel, you just take your water hose and squirt it down. Sensory tables frequently have messy items put in them that require clean up after use. Many times the items we put in a sensory table are biodegradable, such as bird seed, cornmeal, oats, etc. Take messy sensory table activities outdoors, so when children spill things the local birds and creatures will clean up after them. This brings wildlife to your playground, which is another important asset to an outdoor classroom. If you have ideas or questions on things that can be done better outdoors, please comment or contact me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

“Can children learn more about the weather by discussing it outdoors each day?”

Weather is an abstract concept when discussed from the confines of an indoor classroom. Outdoors weather can be a concrete learning experience that provides interaction with all of a child’s senses. A child can hear the wind, feel the wind, and see trees swaying in the wind. Air actually has a smell just before it rains, while rain affects all senses.

Items needed to create a great outdoor preschool weather station might include: thermometer, rain gauge, barometer, weather vane, and a place to record the weather at different times of the day. Each day at the end of outdoor play time, use the weather learning center as a transition point before going inside. Discuss the temperature, is it cloudy or sunny, will it rain based on the barometer, etc. The Adventurous Child web site has a great list of Early Learning Standards that pertain to the weather.

Please send me your ideas or questions on creating an outdoor classroom for preschool children.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

“What do we want children to gain on the preschool playground? Are these the same things they gain outdoors?”

Yes, in many ways the goals of what we want children to learn in the outdoor classroom are the same as the inside classroom. The Adventurous Child would like to see children develop socially, emotionally, cognitively, physically, etc. in outdoor settings where there is nature and movement all around.

One important area of the preschool curriculum is providing social experiences which create cooperation and parallel play. Having quiet gathering areas like a willow hut, a playhouse, or a store front puts children in situations where they interact with each other. These learning centers really come alive with the buzzing of busy children when manipulatives are provided. The playhouse can have dress up clothes for social and dramatic play. Fake money to buy and sell things also provides manipulatives. A willow hut can have pots and pans for cooking a group’s favorite mud stew with meat sticks. Bits of grass can be used for anything.

When choosing manipulatives to create social interaction, pick items that help you meet your state’s Early Learning Standards. If you want to know more about something specific please feel free to comment or to contact me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

“What do we want children to gain from the outdoor learning environment?”

The easy way to create an outdoor classroom is to mimic how we look at indoor classrooms outside. At the beginning of each school year when buying equipment for our classrooms and setting up the space, we do not ask what children will like, but rather we ask, what do our children need to gain from their time with us? For the playground we should do the same things: not ask if children like slides, decks, and tunnels, but ask “What do we want them to gain from these outdoor experiences?” The Adventurous Child recommends that just like the indoor classroom, there should be many different learning centers that meet your state’s Early Learning Standards. As with the indoor classroom, manipulatives and free choice should abound. Each week, this blog will discuss concrete ideas and ways to determine what children can gain outdoors and specific ideas of what you can do outdoors. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to comment or to contact me!

Friday, July 17, 2009

About this blog

This blog is dedicated to discussing how outdoor learning environments can be as rich in education, free choice, and purposeful play as indoor classrooms.