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Redesigning Recess: Why Kids Need Natural Playgrounds

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

    Two preschoolers live in a city. Los Angeles, perhaps, or Houston. Both attend full-time preschool. Both are learning to write their names and developing social skills through peer interactions. Both profess enduring love for Daniel Tiger and the color yellow. On paper, these two children emerge from similar circumstances and have similar educational experiences and opportunities. Except for one distinction.

Charlotte has two 20-minute recess breaks each day. Her teachers wish they could spend more time outside with their young charges, but they have to rotate usage with other teachers, and the playground is also small and somewhat unwelcoming. It's surrounded by eight-foot chain link fencing and features standard-issue swings and monkey bars on blacktop. When she doesn't feel like chasing her friends, Charlotte sits with her back against her school's brick façade and watches cars pass on an adjacent freeway. She's usually eager to return to her classroom when a bell signals that recess time is over.

Ivy's preschool recently added an outdoor classroom. Fencing created from natural materials conceals a hidden wonderland divided into intentional learning and play areas. In one part of the classroom, Ivy and her friends can get their hands dirty with "messy materials." Across a mosaic stone path, they can snip samples of organic greens grown in their own raised beds. There are weatherproof marimbas for the musically inclined-and really, aren't all preschoolers musically inclined?-and "tree cookies," rough wooden building blocks, for use in elaborate building projects.   

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