Making Playgrounds Safe and Secure

By Heather Olsen, Susan D. Hudson, and Donna Thompson

To ensure academic success for all students and close the achievement gap -- these are the top priorities of schools in the second decade of the 21st century. To reach these goals, states and school districts have invested substantial amounts of money and other resources in curriculum, building design, and technology. However, the role of outdoor learning environments -- where students spend a portion of their days -- in achieving these goals unfortunately has gotten little attention.

As a result, indoor classrooms are up-to-date, but the outdoor school environments are not. Many educators, school board members, and administrators don’t see the educational value of the outdoors. However, schools can create and maintain an outdoor environment that strengthens students and contributes to their overall success. If we are committed to educating students to meet the changes and challenges of the 21st century, then we should consider the purpose of an elementary school’s outdoor environment and the role it can play in the process.

The outdoors is more than the playground or field on which children burn energy or release steam during recess, as was thought in the 19th century. Educational research overwhelmingly shows that outdoor play during the school day is more than just an exercise opportunity for children. As authors Kathleen Burriss and Barbara Boyd point out in their book, Outdoor Learning and Play, outdoor play has great potential for physical, social, emotional, and intellectual learning for school-age children. The outdoor environment is a place for children to socialize, express ideas, and solve problems. 

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