Today, the average American child spends just four to seven minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Four to seven minutes. That’s just 23 to 42 hours a YEAR (out of an average of more than 4300 waking hours, translating to less than 1% of a child’s ‘awake time’ being spent outdoors!)
Not so at for the average boy or girl attending any one of the more than 200 Waldorf schools in North American and 3000 Waldorf schools across the globe, where daily outdoor play (in all types of weather) is an integral part of early childhood education and outdoors learning and play can easily account for 10 to 20 percent or more of any given school day.
At Seacoast Waldorf School, children ages 2.5 through fifth grade start each day outdoors – in rain or shine.
For the oldest children, time outside is spent performing farm chores: feeding chickens, collecting eggs, weeding garden beds, harvesting vegetables; playing on the playground, exploring the woods, building structures, or in experiential learning on field trips in the outdoors such as the recent Mt Major hike or 3-day farm camp field trip.
For the younger children, the activity ranges from collecting firewood, to cooking soup over an outdoor fire pit, to climbing jungle gyms, to playing in the sandbox. Logs, stumps, sticks, acorns and rocks become tables, forts, rockets, and treasures.
A typical first grader, for example, spends, on average, between 60 and 90 minutes a day outdoors – on hikes, observing and recording nature for their journals, playing games, climbing trees, digging, playing volleyball, sledding, jumping over (and in) mud puddles, skating, skiing and more.
On Seacoast Waldorf School’s five acre campus, children are free to explore gardens, playgrounds, woodlands, marshes and fields – giving the children the opportunity to use their imaginations, apply their critical thinking skills, stretch their muscles, and enhance their gross motor skills.
The benefits to outdoor play and connecting with nature are well documented. Outdoor play builds active, healthy little bodies. It improves vision and coordination. And, the benefits to mind and spirit are just as numerous. For example, it’s been shown that exposure to natural settings reduces stress (children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces) and can reduce ADHD symptoms. Studies also show that schools with environmental education programs rank higher in math, reading, writing and listening. Critical thinking and creativity are enhanced, mood is lifted, behavior improved.
And, according to at least one study  “nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.”
Beyond the health and cognitive benefits children may gain from free and unstructured play outdoors, nature also provides them with a sense of wonder and a deeper understanding of our responsibility to take care of the Earth, says Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit-Disorder” (Algonquin Books, 2005).
If your kiddos are not getting enough time to run freely in the great outdoors, check out Seacoast Waldorf School to learn about the countless ways we expose children to nature and the outdoors while also bringing the natural world into our classrooms.
Call 207-439-7911 to arrange a tour.
 Study: Kuo, PhD, Frances E., and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD. “A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study.” American Journal of Public Healt
 Study: Bartosh, Oksana. Environmental Education: Improving Student Achievement.
 Study: Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). “Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity.”