The History — and Magic — of Outdoor Play

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

It’s summer and NAEYC’s publication, Young Child, has a compelling and seasonally appropriate article about the history of outdoor play.

Written by Joe L. Frost, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and John A. Sutterby, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the article starts with this poetic quote from Frost’s 2012 article “Evolution of American Playgrounds:”

“Good play environments have magical qualities that transcend the here and now, the humdrum, and the typical. They have flow qualities — qualities that take the child to other places and other times. They are permeated with awe and wonder, both in rarity and in imaginative qualities. Bad play environments are stark and immutable, controlled by adults, lacking resiliency and enchantment. Few dreams can be spun there, and few instincts can be played out. The wonders of…

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About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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14 Responses to The History — and Magic — of Outdoor Play

  1. beetleypete says:

    When I was a child in inner-London, we had a large local park nearby. That was where we spent a lot of time in the school holidays. (late 1950s) It didn’t have any of the modern conveniences and equipment I see in parks and play areas today, but it did have a huge sandpit area, with a high climbing net in the centre of it. We spent hours in that sand, imagining we were climbing up the rigging of ships, castaway on a sandy island, or swinging from the netting like Tarzan. If we fell off, we landed safely in the deep sand. No health and safety, no parents suing the authorities if we grazed our knees, and no adult supervision.

    As much as good spaces need to exist, they are nothing without imagination. Children should not need to be taught how to play, they are born with that ability.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Pete. Yes, they are born with that ability and outdoor play fosters the imagination. I’m glad you had that big sandpit- without adult supervision. Best to you!

  2. Outside play is so important for children, and as child myself, i was never indoors. We did not have parks and rides swing etc in our village.. We made up games, and I would often be riding upon an imaginary horse, or I would be out climbing, jumping the local small brook, picking up Ash keys from
    Ash trees to make helicopter wings, We lived within our world of imagination.. Where as today children live within their virtual world of technology..

    Lovely post share.. Have a wonderful week

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Sue. We certainly were luckier than many of today’s children. If parents read these articles, perhaps they will turn off the TV and video games. If their child cannot go outside, read. Best to you.

  3. Tina Frisco says:

    Oh, how I sometimes long for those carefree days of riding my bicycle, soaring high on the swings, and making mud pies! But what I enjoyed most was going to the park and meeting other kids. We felt so safe back then. Lovely post, Jennie ♥

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Tina. This child play is as important as growing up getting lost in reading books, or singing songs with abandon. We were lucky. You probably didn’t have adult supervision, either. It’s how growing up and learning is supposed to be.

  4. reocochran says:

    Yes, outdoor play with open-ended activities are the best and most fertile places for children to dwell and spend time in. So true, Jennie!

    Kids only need a few words to suggest a whole different world, jungles with Curious George, sidewalks with Madeline, or caterpillars on flowers who are “very hungry” for “real” food! 🙂
    Hikes in woods, creek walks and beaches with shells, shiny glass and smooth rocks. . . back yards and woods. So many places to explore!

    • Jennie says:

      Couldn’t have said any better! 🙂

      • reocochran says:

        You could say it well, Jennie! You are most kind to support my thoughts and what a great resource! We instinctively know how to put play into the hands of the children, while sometimes guiding them to share or work together. Hugs and hope you have a few more weeks till school.📚 My grandies go back very soon, we went clothing shopping this weekend and next week just my 13 year old granddaughter and I go together.

      • Jennie says:

        Thanks, Robin. Teachers go back the last week in August, so I do have a bit more summer left. I just want to read and write, and visit museums and country markets. Grown-up outdoor play. Today is my annual visit to the Eric Carle Museum. Their summer exhibit is the art of David Wiesner. And they have the greatest book store in the world. Have a good week and enjoy those grandies!

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