Nokomis ElementaryUkiah Unified School District

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School Desk: Get Out and Play!

As an elementary school principal, I understand and value the work of parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals in educating our students. Every school day is essential, and we do our best to fill it with the teaching and learning of reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and social-emotional learning. However, I suggest that, sometimes, many folks overlook the importance of simple outdoor play. Playing outside has many benefits for children. Outdoor physical play helps kiddos understand their bodies better and create awareness of the beauty of the Ukiah. 

Katie K. Lockwood, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Primary Care, Flourtown, shares some tips about how families can get active together. First, unstructured physical activity improves the health of your child. It reduces the likelihood of obesity and weight-related health concerns, which are becoming more significant issues for families today. Outdoor play also improves mental health as a result of physical activity. Second, screens and the time your child spends engaging with a device are vital reasons outdoor time should be a scheduled activity. “Scheduling time to play outdoors actively sets a natural limit on the amount of time your child can spend with a device (such as TV, smartphone, or video game),” says Dr. Lockwood. “It promotes active engagement with their peers and the natural environment, and helps them develop respect for the world and consideration for others around them.”

Knowing the importance of outdoor play is the first step in scheduling it. Knowing where to play is the next step. The Ukiah Valley has many options for outdoor play. All Ukiah Unified campuses are open to the public after the school day ends. Todd Grove Park, Low Gap Park, and Vinewood Park are nearby. There are many ways to get outside close to home. Consider the following activities: Have a scavenger hunt. You can look for specific objects or be a bit more general, like things that begin with the letter B or something for each rainbow color. Or perhaps do leaf rubbings. All you need are paper, crayons, and any new leaves you can find. Dig in the dirt. Find worms and bugs, make mud pies, and flip over rocks to see what you'll find.

According to UC Davis Health, getting outside into nature helps improve your health. First, nature can help us improve our thinking, reasoning, and mental abilities. When we're in urban environments or the office all day, we can experience sensory overload, resulting in tension and mental fatigue. Studies have shown that our minds and bodies relax in a natural setting. According to National Library of Medicine studies, being outside increases feelings of pleasure and can help us concentrate and focus more effectively. Secondly, nature can improve physical wellness. Getting out into nature can lead us to want to walk, bike, hike, or kayak more often. People typically engage in regular physical activity when they're in nature. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that being in nature positively affects our bodies by reducing cortisol levels, muscle tension, and demands on our cardiovascular systems (lowering heart rate and blood pressure). Being out in nature often may lead to lower rates of heart disease. The great outdoors can also help you increase your vitamin D level, essential for your bones, blood cells, and immune system. Additionally, you may sleep better when you are regularly outside. Daily exposure to natural light helps regulate sleep/wake cycles. By ensuring you get outside in sunlight every day, you can improve your ability to sleep at night.

After all, playing outside and being outside helps adults and kids and makes us better learners.