Sunbeams fill the afternoon playground, providing a warm relief against the colder fall temperatures. Leaves float here and there across the playground, then gather in brown heaps enveloped by the sound of preschool voices. Spontaneously a group of four-year-olds begins to dance, tossing leaves into the air, laughing and squealing when leaves brush their faces, sticking to sweaters and hair.
In quality early learning environments, children relate intimately with their natural surroundings. They may enjoy the roughness of the leaves on their hands and faces or imagine they’re a swimmer in the leaves, a princess on a soft mattress, a turtle in a shell.
Outdoor play is essential for a child’s physical health and brain development. And evidence shows children learn best through open-ended exploration and discovery. In quality preschools, like those on Orcas, free play is spontaneous, pleasurable, self-motivated, imaginative, active, and free of adult-imposed rules. Quality play involves the whole child: gross motor, fine motor, senses, emotion, intellect, individual growth and social interaction. These experiences help students gain confidence and the knowledge they need for later success.
Learn more about the impact of outdoor play and open-ended experiences in early development. Read about how the Early Childhood Initiative supports quality preschool programs in our own island community.