What are children learning on the playground?

By Adam Miller, Primary Teacher

I suppose the answer to this question depends on who you ask. I have been teaching at Montessori Community School for the past fifteen years, and this query has been brought up by parents and colleagues each year. I have additional questions that come to mind.
Is there value in outside play?
What are children learning?

I feel it appropriate to share my feelings on these issues. I’ll begin with quotes that speak to me.

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadow is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.” Maria Montessori

“Children are born naturalists. They explore the world with all of their senses, experiment in the environment, and communicate their discoveries to those around them.” The Audubon Nature Preschool

These are two powerful quotes referencing the importance and benefits of outside play. As a trained Montessorian, I see that time outside has a positive effect on the development of primary-aged children. Close contact with the outdoors contributes to children’s motor, sensory, social-emotional, moral, and cognitive development. This includes contributions to the development of their physical and emotional well-being. When children are engaged in unstructured play, they are learning lifelong skills that will help navigate all sorts of social interactions; teamwork, compromise, negotiation, and cooperation. While playing with others, children learn how to manage conflict and stress. Challenging situations give children space to experience different coping strategies.

Children who spend a lot of time outdoors are both physically fit and are found to have strengthened immune systems.

MCS children are given the opportunity to experience the changing of seasons that include the life cycle of plants and animals, helping develop a sense of empathy for living things in their environment.

The next time you find yourselves at a playground or perhaps a social event where there are children present, perhaps try viewing a child digging in the dirt as valuable, unstructured play. Outdoor, unstructured play is an essential part of a child’s development. An educational journey is not only reading and writing, as Maria Montessori realized. The importance of the outdoors as it pertains to the development of the whole child is indeed a big part of education as a whole.

“Let’s go dig in the dirt!”