"Go Outside and Play"

Post by: Erika Bakker, SCS teacher and parent

I enjoy recess duty.

Of course, I appreciate a recess break alone, too. A few minutes to set up for the next lesson and refill my cup of coffee are surely appreciated.

But I enjoy recess duty. It’s good get outside. The fresh air wakes me up more than caffeine. The sight and smell of the trees fill my lungs with good things. The casual, playful encounters with the children make me laugh. No wonder recess is a favorite with all ages!

When I’m outside with the children, there’s no official curriculum agenda. I have lots of time to hear their tales of loose teeth, new running shoes, and plans to play Legos with Daddy right after school.

Yesterday, I wandered past some young students stirring leaves and pinecones with short sticks.

“We’re making soup!” they cry. “Would you like some?”

“What kind is it?” I ask, and I take a good sniff. “Smells amazing.”

And we chat. And I gush over the wonderful melding of flavors, and they smile big, and as I walk on, they pour a new handful of leaves into the percolating soup.

Two seconds later, a boy comes running. “Mrs. Bakker, you’ve GOT to see this!” We walk over to where he and a friend have gathered a dozen sticks of various lengths and laid them on the ground in order from longest to shortest. They sit by their creation and use a sturdy stick to hit the sticks as a xylophone. They play for me a song! What a treat!

I walk past the monkey bars and hear the ever-popular cry, “Look at me!” I admire the children’s new skills until a desperate girl runs to me in a panic, with three supporting friends earnestly beside her.

“Quick! It’s an emergency!” they pant. “Her earring fell out!”

“And it’s new!” the dear girl wails. “If it’s out, my holes will close! Please can you put it back in? Quick!?”

How nice it is to save the day.

There are also some mischief-makers out on the playground, of course, and it sometimes happens that a person who forgets that we don’t push at our school, needs reminding. And sometimes someone who needs reminding about the reminding ends up walking with me for a while. We walk together up the hill and check on those students using the swings and we walk around to the covered area to see how the soccer game is coming along and we wander over to the big tree stump to say hi to the children lost in imagination over there. By then, usually, the reminder has been remembered and the little mischief-maker is ready to play again.

What I enjoy about recess at Shoreline Christian is the wonderfully organic playground. We have trees, and grassy slopes, and hollow little tree stumps. There are nooks and crannies and places to build fairy houses. There are patches of soil where I’ve seen a student quietly plant a seed saved from his apple. Last week a group of six young boys were setting up an inviting home in the grass and dirt for any visiting mice who might stop by over the weekend.

I love this! There have been some interesting articles lately about the benefits of being outside and particularly of being around trees. Did you know that trees give off phytoncides, chemicals that have antibacterial and antifungal qualities? Even five minutes in the forest has been known to increase the immune system, as well as increase focus, reduce stress and improve mood.* What a blessing that our darlings get to play outside for 70 minutes a day! And the fact that their play is student-led and unstructured just makes my heart sing. We don’t often give our children the chance to “just play.” 

And when they play, I often see groups of various ages and genders playing together. I see big kids helping the little ones on the swings. Capture the Flag games, initiated by the children, will sometimes draw in more than half of the entire elementary! A writing club emerged last week where boys and girls sat on the grass and wrote stories on pieces of paper that some fifth graders brought outside. All were invited, and blank paper was provided for any interested Kindergarten students who might prefer to draw. There are also often many students gathered around the big tree stump in the woods. The stump is often a castle or sometimes one grand throne. I love the multi-age kingdoms that develop, complete with currency (leaves and pinecones), lost princes, important quests, and eager servants who sweep the ground with branches.

Parents are invited to be a part of this fun, joining a teacher during noon hour recess on the playground. I look forward to seeing you there! We’ll breathe deep, laugh with the children and stock up on our immune-building phytoncides. Like the author and physician Leonard Sax writes, “The most important thing we can say to a child is to go outside and play.”^

I’m thankful that at SCS our children hear this three times a day!

*New York Department of Environmental Conservation: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html

*http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/a-walk-in-the-woods

^Sax, Leonard. Girls on the Edge. Basic Books, New York. 2010

For more info, see also Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books. 2008.