When I was at a workshop recently, we were given the challenge to think about why children climb and the cognitive, affective, physical, perceptual and motor skills required in order to climb. As an educator that has observed and encouraged many children to climb, I had not really broken down the elements of climbing in that way. For example, prior to the workshop, I would have responded that children climb because of the thrill of climbing, to retrieve objects, or to follow others or show off to others. As I looked at it deeper, I came to understand that climbing provides children with a sense of accomplishment, they may overcome physical challenges, increase their visual field and vestibular sensations, and experience physics including gravity, pendulums and optics.
As the workshop leader asked us to think about the cognitive requirements of climbing, she gave us examples of how children must use their memory, problem solve and be able to visualize where they want to climb to and the plan to achieve that goal. As the workshop leader spoke about the affective requirements of climbing, I was intrigued when she suggested that we observe children to see if they are motivated to climb. Do they climb because their peers are climbing rather than for the love it? Are there signs of stress or do the children show a sense of joy, relaxation, and enjoyment in the challenge?
Identifying the physical skills was much easier for me because prior to this workshop, that is how I had categorized climbing. Yes, climbing equals physical skills, whereby the children experience perceptual skills such as spatial awareness including how much space they need for their body to be able to move in various ways and in places. I neglected to think about how climbing supports children in acquiring directional awareness concepts such as left-right, front-back, in and out.
As I concluded the workshop, I began thinking about the types of outdoor play experiences children pursue and then trying to categorize how those experiences contribute to their learning. My children spend many hours playing with sand and water, but never had I thought about how these materials allow children to feel success with them or the depth and breadth of mathematical and scientific concepts such as prediction, classification, depth, trial and error, and communication that occur in this play.
I decided that as an educator, I need to really think deeply about why, what, how, when, and the role of the adult in outdoor play.