Today’s post comes to you from Pediatric Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, who recently released a book called Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children. Angela wanted to share about how outdoor play can help build social-emotional and cognitive skills in children!
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Your child’s mind is rapidly developing every minute.
It is a complex interplay of emotions, interpretation of the senses and movement experiences, creating memories, planning, and learning about the world around them.
The mind enables your children to be aware of the world around them and to consciously think and make decisions.
It is both complex and fascinating at the same time.
In order to keep things simple, we are going to focus on two primary functions of the mind: social-emotional skills and cognitive skills.
These skills are enhanced through outdoor play experiences.
Waiting your turn. Following the rules. Dealing with feelings of frustration and anger in a healthy way. Sharing your toys. Making new friends. All of these skills describe components of healthy social-emotional development. Young children develop their social-emotional skills through practice and small steps over time.
You can support your child’s social-emotional skills by simply holding him, touching him, and speaking to him. Giving him loving attention while letting him play, explore, and follow his interests. He will develop new skills when you give him just enough help so that he can be successful, without getting overly frustrated. Occupational therapists call this the “just right” challenge. For instance, if your child is trying to climb up a single step onto the next level of flooring — step back and let him, but be there to spot him. Maybe he only needs a little nudge in order to successfully make it to the next level, but did it mostly by himself. Next time he tries, he is likely to have the confidence needed to advance up the step independently. This teaches him that hard work and persistence is often followed by success.
If your children have trouble with social-emotional skills, they may have difficulties playing with other children. They may get easily frustrated and angry and have trouble controlling their rage. They often don’t empathize with the needs of other children. They may have trouble sharing, listening to others, taking turns, and playing by the rules even as they get older and these skills should be in place. It is important that we start early with children. Teach them what is right and wrong. Listen to them and allow independence whenever possible – especially in an outdoor setting.
Playing independently outdoors with friends further challenges and enhances children’s social-emotional skills.
The natural setting creates a calm, sensory rich (but not sensory overloaded) environment where kids can play energetically without some of the frustrations, noise, and other stressors that present themselves at indoor play facilities or on school grounds. In nature, away from adults and large groups of peers, children find peace and calm. They have opportunities to work out issues one-on-one or in small groups of children. There are no colorful lights blinking, noisy interruptions, or adults constantly checking in on them. Time expands as they dive into deep play. Their opportunities for advanced social interactions and problem solving are endless.
Cognitive skills also develop through practice and opportunity over time. They involve abilities such as paying attention, memory, and thinking. These crucial skills utilize the processing of sensory information to form new memories, evaluate, analyze, make comparisons, and learn cause and effect. Some cognitive skills are genetic; however, most cognitive skills are learned through real life situations. In other words, learning and thinking skills can be improved through enriching cognitive experiences.
To foster learning, be mindful of what interests your child has and allow her ample time to explore the subject. For example, if your child is thoroughly excited by the shark exhibit at the local children’s museum and wants to spends a good portion of her time here, let her, even if you are bored and would rather see the jellyfish, which is meaningful to you but perhaps not to your child. Sometimes as adults, we feel like we know the best activity to help our children learn something new. However, if we simply step back and follow the child — they will often lead us to what is most interesting and meaningful to them.
When children are deprived of child-led play experiences, they may struggle with higher-level thinking skills such as coming up with their own ideas, problem-solving, and other forms of creative expression.
IN A NUTSHELL
Adults should step back a little, and allow children the gift of time and space. It is only when we constantly say, “no” that we start to see problems in development. We may say, “no climbing,” “no riding your bike to Henry’s house,” “no running,” “there is no time for that,” “don’t touch that,” and “get down from there.”
We think we know what is best for our children. We are just trying to protect them. However, by constantly rushing children, restricting their movement, and diminishing their time to play, we are causing more harm than good.
Wanna gain some inspiration AND learn more about how outdoor play makes for strong, confident, capable children?
Well, now’s the time to enter for your chance to win a free copy of Angela Hanscom’s new book, Balanced and Barefoot!
Entrants must be at least 18 years of age, possess a valid U.S. mailing address, and possess a valid email address. Giveaway is only available to those with a valid U.S. mailing address. Giveaway begins at 12:00am PST on May 1, 2016 and ends at 12:00am PST on May 8, 2016. One (1) winner will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter and contacted within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway.
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Angela Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist, author of BALANCED AND BAREFOOT: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children, and the founder of TimberNook—a developmental nature-based program. She holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy and an undergraduate degree in kinesiology (the study of movement). She has been a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and featured on the NPR education blog, Johnson & Johnson TEDx talks, The Huffington Post, ChicagoNow, Times of India, Jerusalem Post, Children & Nature Network, and MindShift.
For more information visit www.balancedandbarefoot.com.