Springtime Outdoors: The Play is Free
Recently, my husband and I took a walk along the river at our favorite state park. Long-awaited signs of spring were finally all around us. After such a long winter of isolation, it was good to be outside and around people again. As we walked along the path, I heard excited voices behind us; they sounded like a family. A dad on a bike was following what appeared to be twin girls on tiny strider bikes. The girls were a bit wobbly, but they were striding along the path with enthusiasm and joyful determination. They were figuring out how to stop and start and what happened when there were bumps or if they went fast!
The next day, back at the park, we encountered the same family. It had rained overnight, leaving puddles on the path. When they noticed the puddles, the girls gathered speed and headed straight into the water. One of the girls called out for us to watch, so we stopped. She leaned back, lifted her front tire into a wheely. I didn't know that was possible on a strider bike! When her wheel was back on the ground, she proceeded down the path encouraged by her audience. As she cruised through the puddle, the rainwater splashed up around her feet. Her father told us they liked to see the tracks the wet tires made on the path. We watched both girls getting caught up in the moment. As we continued our walk, I heard a voice say, "Watch me, Daddy!". Playing in the water on a sunny spring day should be experienced and shared.
This father was providing opportunities for his children to explore and take risks providing rich learning experiences. Wyoming's Coherent Path to Quality tells us that "Exploratory learning experiences spark curiosity, invite investigation, and nurture learning." As children explore, they ask, "What will happen if I…, How does this work?" and actively engage with their environment to investigate the answers to their questions. As we watched the girls speed along, you could almost see the wheels turning and not just on their bikes! Their father had provided them a safe but exciting environment to investigate and explore. They were exploring balance, coordination, and understanding how their bikes and their bodies worked. When they rode through the water and saw the tire tracks' patterns, they experienced cause and effect. Bright sunshine, curvy path, puddles, birds, rocks, sticks, and mud made up this exploratory learning adventure environment.
As I listened to the new season of the Voices from the Village podcast, the brilliant words of Julie Bullard resonated with me. She shared her concern about the disappearance of play in early childhood, both in classrooms and homes. When she said that we want childhood to be a time when children are "joyfully learning," the twins on their bikes came to mind. There are endless ways to create indoor classroom spaces to encourage engagement in meaningful, joyful play. Outdoor spaces, including parks, playgrounds, backyards, provide rich environments for children to deepen their learning, too. We should all strive to be effective advocates for giving children the time, space, and freedom to play!
I loved a quote from Teacher Tom Hobson in one of his keynote presentations for Week of the Young Child in Wyoming. The words were actually from a child who said, "Play is what I do when people stop telling me what to do!" The kind of play that happens when children are free to explore is where meaningful learning begins.
Season Two of Voices From The Village
A podcast from the Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative
Wyoming's Coherent Path to Quality
Additional resources to encourage families to explore outdoor spaces playfully.