Strauss at The Washington Post published this wonderful piece by Angela Hanscom, founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England. Here’s an excerpt. And since most schools do NOT have a forest at hand, feel free to suggest ways to incorporate these ideas in an urban or suburban setting:
How schools ruined recess — and four things needed to fix it, by Angela Hanscom
…I’m in the beautiful country of New Zealand. Rolling green hills surround us at every turn. Here in the small patch of woods, the children are at a TimberNook camp enjoying their freshly cooked popcorn in their bare feet, while sheep wander through the trees nearby. A child suddenly spies the sheep and puts away her snack. “Can I have some rope and scissors please?” The child politely asks. With no questions asked, the young girl is given ample rope and a pair of scissors.
This six-year-old child quickly gets to work. She cuts the rope to the size she wants and makes a large loop at the end. She only asks the adult for help with tying the secure knot. “I’m going to lasso some sheep!” she yells. Other children take notice and start to create their own lassos. Before long, the children are running through the woods trying to lasso the sheep.
The scene that takes place in front of us is therapeutic on all levels: laughter rings through the woods, as the children quickly learn how to maneuver around the tree stumps with little bare feet softly padding along on the dirt floor. They learn how to work as a team to shepherd the sheep. They also gently stroke the soft wool of the sheep, while talking soothingly to the animals. In other words, through this one child-led play experience, they practiced problem solving, fine motor skills, balance, quick reflexes, empathy, teamwork, endurance, and touch processing skills.
The problem is that most adults would try and prevent this sort of play. Everything would be questioned and controlled from the very beginning. There is often no trust when it comes to free play for children, creating a highly regulated and controlled recess atmosphere. A recess that is consistently short and very restrictive allows few opportunities for healthy sensory development – leading to potential difficulties with attention, learning, and behavior.
What if we took a totally different approach to recess instead?
Read the whole essay here.