I teach math in snow pants. Really! Also, many schoolhouse students do their math lessons in snow pants. Why do I teach math in snow pants? Mainly, because it is cold outside, and I like to be warm. And, no, we don’t do math outside (even though we do go outside a lot at the schoolhouse!)
But, you see, math is sandwiched between two outside recess periods. Snack recess is from 10:30 to 11:00, math is from 11:00 to 12:00, and lunch recess is from 12:00 to 1:00. So, it only makes sense to teach math in snow pants when math is between two all-important sledding periods this winter.
Why take them off? I think the kids were a little shocked when I told them to just leave their snow pants and boots on if they wanted. We were just going to sit down and do a little math, before heading back outside to the sledding hill again.
It really comes down to a matter of priorities. Where is the real learning happening? Is it in the classroom at desks or is it on the sledding hill?
I say both!
Why has this line been running around in my head for a week?
On Tuesday, I was squatting on the floor in front of a level three math group. As I set up the pieces for a math game, I looked around at the students’ legs and then at mine, and it hit me: We were all wearing snow pants. Not one of us had bothered taking them off.
This realization struck me as monumental. I have taught thousands of math lessons over the years. Somehow over the last year and a half, while teaching math at A One-Room Schoolhouse, a shift occurred.
It was not a conscious shift, I never thought, “Wow, I need to teach more subjects in outdoor clothing.” It just happened. A profound switch from dressing for indoor teaching to prioritizing time outside as a means to access effective learning and focus.
The Four to Seven Minute Problem
Did you know that “on average, American children spend four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play compared to seven or more hours in front of a screen?” (Standford Health) Seven minutes! Let’s be honest, A One-Room Schoolhouse students get more than that walking from the car to the classroom at drop-off and pick-up.
That statistic is just sad in so many ways because of the amazing benefits of being outside. And it’s not just about being outside, it’s also so important that they engage in daily unstructured outdoor play. I can guarantee that schoolhouse students get an hour and a half of daily outside unstructured play. Even when we have to eat our lunches inside, those kids wolf down their sandwiches and head outside.
And you know what, the process of getting outside is just a little more streamlined because, you know, we do math in snow pants!
I have written about my reasons for prioritizing unstructured, outside play before. I made a nice little list of them here. You can find countless lists if you Google the “benefits of outside play.” I like the ones here, here, and here. But, I have been thinking about some less general and more specific benefits that I have seen at A One-Room Schoolhouse.
- Age differences melt away, and everyone plays together. Seriously, I have seen sledding trains of kids in grades Kindergarten through ninth grade. They just play. Age and grade mean nothing while outside.
- Fine motor skills skyrocket when children repeatedly practice taking on and off outdoor clothing. (Even if we leave our snow pants on for math lessons!)
- Natural consequences of actions teach valuable lifelong lessons. Nature is the great equalizer. Gravity, weather, dirt and water are all around everyone. We are affected and learn to exist in all of God’s creation.
- Emotional health improves as kids learn to play together without any need for direct instruction. Although, direct instruction in emotional development is helpful (and we do that too!), the emotional wellbeing derived from unstructured play outside is priceless.
- Problem solving skills skyrocket through finding solutions to real problems. We don’t have to talk about contrived problems to solve, they are happening all around us while we play outside. Negotiating rules, including those that are sad, making up games, finding the best sledding hill, climbing a tall rock or testing the ice at the edge of a pond all help kids figure out how to solve complex problems.
- An appreciation of nature becomes natural. This familiarity with the natural world provides a solid foundation for scientific and historical inquiry. This also provides a better understanding of life in the REAL world.
- Mental and physical resilience are fostered as kids get hurt, navigate problems and overcome obstacles. (Yes, kids will get hurt. I don’t say that to be mean or flippant. But, getting an occasional skinned knee is great for kids!)
- Children learn compassion and care. During unstructured outdoor play, sometimes kids get hurt, sometimes physically and sometimes emotionally. I love seeing kids rally around each other and care for one another when someone gets sad or when someone gets hurt. I have never seen that in a video game.
- Focus improves. I can expect so much more out of students’ seat work if they have been completely worn out on the sledding hill.
- Differences decrease and community increases. I dare you to come by at recess and point out the kids with learning disabilities, high-functioning autism, ADHD, speech impairments and health concerns. All of the students are out there playing together, and I doubt any of the kids know who has what or who does not. I have worked at many schools that tout inclusion, but none of them have achieved the inclusion that playing in the great outdoors fosters.