autism · behavior · brain · children · learning · mental health · Nature · play · school

Outdoor Play Helps Improve Autistic Symptoms

Reposting this from a fantastic blog Free Range Kids, run by Lenore Skenazy, a huge advocate for letting children be children and just playing, especially outdoors:

Readers — In our desperation to create “smarter” kids, we have practically pinned them to their desks. Now educators are realizing this may be just the opposite of what is best for kids — including those with special needs, as Andrea Gordon writes in Toronto’s TheStar.com (a paper run by my favorite editor-in-chief from back when he and I were at the NY Daily News, Michael Cooke). – L.

It was a crisp March day outside Blaydon Public School when teachers discovered that 4-year-old Alex Wong could spell his name.There were no pencils or paper in sight. Everyone was bundled in winter jackets. Alex, who has autism, was in the outdoor classroom where his special-needs class played and explored for at least an hour every day, alongside 25 kids from the mainstream kindergarten class.

Teacher Sue Cooper noticed Alex march over to a pile of wood, put three sticks in a small wheelbarrow and push it to a spot on the pavement. One by one, he placed the sticks on the ground, forming the letter A. He made three more trips and came back with sticks to make three more letters, which he placed in a row: L, E and X.

Cooper’s jaw dropped. The teachers ran for a camera.

Alex is non-verbal and for a long time, his only interactions had been to throw things or hit. But in the fresh air, day after day, something started to change. Over several months Alex had watched the other children making structures. And that March morning, he was ready to take his turn.

The teachers say his is one example of how daily outdoor time is changing the way their young students — including those autism and other special needs — learn and behave.

Full post.

Obviously more research needs to be done, but there has been strong correlations drawn between outdoor time and decreasing of ADD and dementia symptoms, so it makes sense that putting humans in our natural surroundings would also help other mental disabilities and ailments.

There are a growing number of outdoor preschools, and I’d argue that there should be more outdoor elementary and even middle schools.

anthropology · behavior · brain · children · community · education · environment · family · learning · mental health · psychology

Let the children play outside, darn it!

English: Children in Khorixas, Namibia Deutsch...
Why aren’t American kids allowed to play outside anymore; Children in Khorixas, Namibia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

While summer may just be getting into full swing in my neck of the woods, it’s almost over for most everyone else (*sob!*). It seems everyone is trying to take advantage of a few last weekends of summer before school starts back up. But for some kids, that is a lot harder than it sounds. Free Range Kids recently posted about separate instances of a mom and a dad getting in trouble for letting their kids play outside unattended.

 

The mom’s story:

 

Today the police visited my home after one of my neighbors called in about my children being outside alone…in our yard with a home on two sides and six foot fence on the other two sides. The officer said, “Don’t have me called back out.” So now, do I have to go outside with my children every time they go out? I have a chronic illness and sitting outside all day sucks for me. They love being outside. They come in for bathroom breaks, they come in to tattle, they come in to say “I Love You”… they are in and out every 5-10 minutes. I check on them anytime I pass the door, and I lay or sit next to an open window. If I call for them, they come to the door/window and answer as a “check in.” They will literally stay outside from wake up to 9 pm, when I force them to come in, with breaks for the above and for food. They were perfectly safe. I don’t know what to do.

 

The dad’s story:

 

Dear Lenore: A neighbor of mine called the Texas CPS (Child Protective Services) and the Police on my wife and I because we allow our children, ages 6 and 8, to play in the courtyard directly in front of our apartment. CPS has been investigating my family since April 4th 2012, it is now August 12 2012, and all they have come up with is the one report to Police about my 6-year-old being outside in front of his home. Now we are dealing with the courts in a “Negligent Supervision” case, which makes absolutely no sense because my child wasn’t hurt or asking anyone for help. I was outside with my son when the Police arrived, but the CPS caseworker insists that I take drug tests and parenting classes. People are not neighbors anymore, they are just @$$holes. – A Texas Dad

 

Unfortunately the Free Range Kids blog has waaaay too many examples of this kind of reaction from authorities.

 

I find this really concerning, since we’re basically telling children they can’t be responsible for themselves when parents are trying to teach their children independence and responsibility, we’re not allowing them unstructured play time which is crucial for learning and brain development, that it is a way more dangerous world out there than it really is, AND it discourages them from exploring and getting exposure to nature and natural sunlight, both things that are crucial for growing bodies.

 

Why are children no longer allowed to play in their own front yards? I’m sorry if this comes off as a rant, but I feel not letting children play outside and learn on their own is a serious problem if we are simultaneously so concerned about “winning” the education race against other nations.

Aside from yelling at CPS and the police, what can we do as concerned citizens, either with children or without, to encourage and enable children to play outside and allow parents to let their children roam a little bit freer and get the unstructured, unsupervised play time they need in order to develop normally? Ideas welcome in the comments below.