How to Get Kids Engaged in Play Outside

So you have done the work. You have carefully created an outdoor space for the children to play in. You have created a time slot for the kids to be outside and you have faithfully taken them outside every day because you believe in the importance of recess for child development. Yet, you have noticed that there are a number of them that want to talk with you or be with you during recess rather than engage in play with their peers. You know that they need to play with their peers to develop social skills such as conflict resolution and negotiating. You know that they need to run, climb, hop, and move around to build their gross motor skills and proprioceptive skills. So what to do to get them moving?

In my perspective, the adults under the care of children have to be intentional about building meaningful relationships with the children.  They have to know that you care and that they can count on you. If they feel secure in the relationship that they have with you than they will be able to get out there, engage in play, and take risks. They know that you will be there if they need you, but they are not burdened by your perception of what they do. Because of the secure relationship, these children are not seeking for your approval or hiding from you for fear of disapproval.  They feel a sense of empowerment and can move around freely.  They can communicate with their friends and make up a game and the rules. They have freedom of creativity. Why? Because as a caretaker you have been careful to set up an intentional environment and within that environment you have been careful not to be limiting. This means not making a big deal about normal things that children do such as lying down during story time.  Think about it from their perspective. How would you feel if everyday people were trying to control every little thing about you? You can’t do this. You can’t do that. Stop this! Stop that! You’d be left paralyzed, unsure what you can step out and do. You would start to feel like, why even bother? I will just be told, “you can’t.” The rules we set up as adults have to be well thought out. If they are not hindering the safety of anyone, are they really necessary? Are there ways we can loosen up a little to let kids be themselves rather than ask them to be adults.  Essentially they need to hear a lot more of the word yes and a lot less of the word no.

This entails being more confident in the abilities of children to be responsible. It entails providing them with advice on building those skills when needed, but not taking care of things that they can manage on their own. For example, children feel empowered when they know they can speak up for themselves. When adults have encouraged the kids to say, “I don’t like being pushed”  or “My name is Sandy not ________. Please call me by my name.”  This allows for a sense of fairness in their world compared to when adults allow kids to tattle and fix their problems for them.  Yes, there are times when adults need to step in especially if someone may be hurt, but overall young children can be given some autonomy and empowerment for dealing with their world.  Giving kids opportunities to be self sufficient in things that they are ready to tackle allow them to be confident in their abilities. It allows them to go out there and try new things, to create games with friends, to play pretend, to just be a kid.

August 7 2016