Reconceptualizing Outdoor Space

Create natural play scapes outdoors, with loose parts, that encourage children to explore, take risks, collaborate and problem-solve.

Photo of Jyoti Gopal
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Overview:

Our students in my school in the Bronx already have access to the natural world - they are surrounded by trees, the gardens and a glimpse of the woods and the river by our campus.  It’s certainly a great start but how might we do better? There are 2 ways we can enhance our students’ experience with our outdoors and thus change the way they experience school :

1. by re-imagining and tweaking our natural play space to encourage discovery and wonder, and yes, an element of risk-taking in children's outdoor, unstructured free play that goes beyond the traditional recess.

2. by weaving a place based curriculum into our students’ lives so that they can extend their times outdoors exploring more deeply the natural world and its various phenomena and linking this directly and thus meaningfully to their own lives .

Research has proven the benefits of being outdoors surrounded by nature, engaging in free, unstructured play with "loose parts" . The cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits are well documented and yet for some reason we continue to rehash the same old recess routine with the same play ground structures and the same rules of what is and is not "appropriate behavior". 

So let's re-conceptualize how recess could be a time for our students  to build, innovate, play and take risks as they see fit in outdoor spaces that are not static. 

Potential For Impact: (Why is this an idea that creates a culture of innovation?)

Rethinking the way recess is "done" can create a new culture of thinking about risk-taking, both outdoors and indoors.

Imagine the energy, sizzle and learning that could be taking place outdoors that would then translate into indoor buzz and energy.

The more children  move and play and explore with their physical selves, the more cognitively and socially flexible they become. Simon Nicholson, who wrote the Theory of Loose Parts said “ in any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.” Natural spaces that stretch physicality and encourage discovery and exploration require adults that are willing to let go and model some risk-taking themselves. 

Value Prop/Pitch: (How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal? Etc)

Share the research - which is extensive!-  on this

We could be leaders in the independent school arena in rethinking recess!

How’d I get this idea off the ground?

Invite people who are engaged in this already to come and share their experiences and brainstorm how we could do it in our school.

There are no downsides to this at all - but the buy-in is key(from teachers, admin and parents).

Just as children need to be introduced to some potentially risky play opportunities in small steps in order to build skills, judgment and confidence, so do we, as adults, need to take small steps towards feeling comfortable ourselves with providing unstructured play opportunities.

How  you can get started:

No tools necessary - just start the conversation!

Eventually, adding loose parts, changing the school landscape in little ways to create opportunities for discovery and exploration.

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