The Value of Play

Does outdoor play make kids smarter?
Article by DeAnne Musolf, for San Jose Mercury News

We know that outdoor play improves kids’ physical health. All that fresh air and exercise — what’s not to like? The truth is, there actually may be more to like. Outdoor play is increasingly linked scientifically to stronger mental muscle.

Back to Nature and the Emerging Child Saving Movement: Restoring Children’s Outdoor Play

Article by Joe Frost for the Children & Nature Network

The benefits of outdoor environments and nature experiences are remarkable and extensive. These include: inner peace, stress reduction, fitness, healing, mental health, and creativity; physical, emotional and intellectual development; bonding with nature, appreciation for nature, and heightened sense of beauty.

The Movement to Restore Children’s Play Gains Momentum
By Hiliary Stout, The New York Times, January 6, 2011

Too little playtime may seem to rank far down on the list of society’s worries, but the scientists, psychologists, educators and others who are part of the play movement say that most of the social and intellectual skills one needs to succeed in life and work are first developed through childhood play.

Kids Dig Dirt! Green Paper
The Association of Children’s Museums

The Green Paper proposes that children’s museums integrate outdoor spaces and experience that connect children and families to nature. It describes the crucial impact that hands-on immersive nature play can have on individual health and the building of global solidarity towards sustainable development. See pages 8-9 for the benefits of nature play.

Nature Guide
Children, Nature and You

This nature activity guide is a one-page brochure with suggestions for children birth —five.

Time for Play, Every Day
Alliance for Childhood

This one-page hand-out covers the benefits of play, how you can help children play, and resources.


Adventure & Risk in Play

Adventure – The Value of Risk in Children’s Play
Book by Joan Almon, Alliance for Childhood

Children’s free play is full of risk-taking, a fact that frightens many adults who have become risk-averse. Yet many experts feel that this aversion is excessive and even harmful. They point to children’s natural capacity for risk-assessment which needs to be developed rather than suppressed in childhood.

The Role of Risk in Play and Learning
Article by Joan Almon

Real play means taking risks—physical, social, and even cognitive. Children are constantly trying out new things and learning a great deal in the process. They love to move from adventure to adventure. They face the risk of mistakes and even of injuries, but that does not deter children. They embrace life, play, and risk with gusto, and they are prepared for a certain amount of bumps and bruises while growing up.

Politics of Play, Seeking adventure in a risk-averse society
By Jay Griffiths for Orion Magazine

Attempting to take two minor castles may not feature on every child’s to-do list, but lighting fires, making shelters, using knives, and coping with darkness should: this is how children learn to paddle their own canoe—both actually and metaphorically.


Green Schoolyards

THE GREEN SCHOOLYARD MOVEMENT: Gaining Momentum Around the World
By Sharon Danks, published by the Children & Nature Network

Outside of school, spaces children can explore on their own have been shrinking over the last few generations, reducing children’s domain from miles of free ranging territory to the limited zone between home and the end of the block. Schoolyards are now one of the only places many children are allowed to play outdoors on a daily basis, and they are increasingly important for fostering children’s health and development … schools have a responsibility to provide the next generation with outdoor experiences that help them develop their curiosity, their sense of adventure, a healthy lifestyle, and a love of nature.

TRENDS THAT GIVE US HOPE: The Power and Potential of Green Schoolyards
By Sharon Danks, published by the Children & Nature Network

A movement to green school grounds and connect students to nature is gaining momentum in the United States and around the globe, weaving the ideas of urban sustainability and ecological design together with academic achievement, public health, children’s wellbeing, sense of place, and community engagement.

Loose Parts Play
Hand-out by Evergreen Brick Works

Early childhood educators recognize play as the foundation activity for almost all future learning. Loose parts play is an important part of this learning continuum. Found objects such as balls, hoops, wooden blocks, costumes, hockey sticks, logs, sand, leaves and re-used tires provide opportunity for more kinds of play than occurs with standard play equipment. Children can experiment with their physical and creative abilities by manipulating found loose objects.


Curriculum and School-Related Resources and Articles

Nature Education with Young Children: Integrating Inquiry and Practice

Book edited by Daniel R. Meier and Stephanie Sisk-Hilton

The book’s editors and authors challenge the readers to think deeply about and enter actively into relation with nature. “What really matters in nature education — calling on children’s and teachers’ powers of attention and focus, of wonderment and joy, analysis and reflection, individual exploration and collaborative discovery, and sifting and sorting of information, data, and concepts over time.

Crisis in the Kindergarten, Why Children Need to Play in School
Edward Miller and Joan Almon

The Alliance for Childhood’s publications and resources relating to restoring play in childhood include the report ‘Crisis in the Kindergarten, Why Children Need to Play in School’. Read the executive summary or the full report – see twelve key types of play pages 53-54

A Research-Based Case for Recess
by Olga S. Jarrett

Advocates for the wellbeing of all children need to be concerned about the number of children deprived of recess. Given the strong evidence suggesting recess meets so many physical, social, emotional, and academic needs, recess for all  is a goal worth pursuing.

Plant a Seed, Grow a Reader
Resources from Children, Nature and You

Children, nature and you provides several resources for presenters and participants of Plant a Seed, Grow a Reader workshops.

Environmental Action Toolkit for early childhood educators and parents
World Forum Foundation

The activities in this 86 page Toolkit (designed forages 3-8) will suggest ways for your early childhood program to focus on positive actions teachers and children can take together to help the world we share become a “greener” and healthier place.

Opening the World Through Nature Journaling
Curriculum by John Muir Laws

The second edition of the acclaimed curriculum, Opening the World Through Nature Journaling, is now available as a free download. The curriculum now includes more great kid tested sketching activities, poetry writing, and more detailed tips on drawing in nature (you will love the material on drawing plants).  This is a great resource for teachers, outdoor leaders, and home school parents.

Look, Don’t Touch
Article by David Sobel, published in the July/August 2012 issue of Orion magazine

This article is about “the kind of environmental education leads to environmental values and behaviors in adulthood—education that originates in children’s innate play tendencies in the natural world; supports and allows wild nature play; recognizes the importance of hunting, gathering, collecting, and, when appropriate, consuming the natural world; encourages adults and children to explore and learn together so adults can model attention and respect; and supports children’s appetite for imagination and fantasy.

Children, Nature and Technology

Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early education
Booklet by the Alliance for Childhood and Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood

Smart boards. Smartphones. Tablets. E-books, and more. The rapid influx of new screen devices poses a special challenge for the early childhood community. A child born today will experience wondrous technologies few of us can even imagine. How do we best support children’s growth, development, and learning in a world radically changed by technology?

Children, Adolescents, and the Media
Research article by the American Academy of Pediatrics

 According to a recent study, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend >11 hours per day.1 Presence of a television (TV) set in a childs bedroom increases these figures even more, and 71% of children and teenagers report having a TV in their bedroom.1 Young people now spend more time with media than they do in schoolit is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping. In addition to time spent with media, what has changed dramatically is the media landscape.


Reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics on Play

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty
Article by Regina M. Milteer, MD, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD—American Academy of Pediatrics

Children who live in poverty often face socioeconomic obstacles that impede their rights to have playtime, thus affecting their healthy social-emotional development. For children who are under-resourced to reach their highest potential, it is essential that parents, educators, and pediatricians recognize the importance of lifelong benefits that children gain from play.

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
Article by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD—American Academy of Pediatrics

Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Many of children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play. Because every child deserves the factors that interfere with optimal development and press for circumstances that allow each child to fully reap the advantages associated with play.


 Research Volumes from the Children & Nature Network

Children’s Contact With The Outdoors And NatureA Focus On Educators And Educational Settings
Volume of research from the Children & Nature Network

This volume has 48 pages of research articles related to the benefits to children from contact with the outdoors and nature—reviews research focused on the physical, mental, and social benefits that contact with the outdoors and nature provides to children. Research is grouped into several main focal areas.

Health Benefits To Children
From Contact With The Outdoors & Nature
Volume of research from the Children & Nature Network

This volume includes thirty-nine pages of articles related to the value of nature and outdoor experiences to children’s physical and mental health and well-being.