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.

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