Posted on 03/26/2012 at 07:43 AM by Global Reach

School districts in Iowa receiving Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program funds receive state verification visits at which time their programs are evaluated for meeting Quality Preschool Program Standards (QPPS).  They must meet 100% of required criteria and 85% of remaining criteria in the areas of relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment, health, teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment and leadership/management.

Some of the required criteria that many districts in Northwest Area Education Agency are challenged with meeting have to do with the establishment of an outdoor playground.  QPPS criteria for a playground says that they should allow for various physical activities, meet space requirements, be fenced in and follow safety standards.  For preschools located in elementary buildings this almost always means they need to establish a new and separate playground for preschoolers rather than just using their existing elementary playgrounds.  Where districts partner with community preschool programs it may mean putting in a playground for the first time or changing and/or enhancing one as well.  No matter what, the factors of cost and location come into play.

Why should preschoolers have outdoor play space?  Young children learn best when both their mind and body are active.  They learn to express themselves differently in the outdoors, it reduces stress of learning, and just by being outdoors they learn to appreciate it.  They learn about the world, themselves and the environment while receiving all the health benefits of exercise.  The outdoors allows children to be children and encourages many types of play.  Have you ever considered that outdoor time is pre-writing?  Children develop from the inside to the outside, from the large muscles to the small muscles, so all that movement on the playground is preparing them for hand-writing.   

Purchasing big climbing structures can make an outdoor playground initially appealing for children and give them large motor opportunities, but it can also be very costly—especially when you consider the required safety surfacing that they must be placed in.  That’s why more and more playground planners are looking at the outdoor classroom concept, where the play opportunities can be just as great and much less expensive.  The outdoor classroom is an extension of the indoor environment and still provides for large-motor play, but equally allows for dramatic play and cognitive skill development.  Often an outdoor classroom has a cement riding path winding through an adequate-sized play area that includes natural elements, where children can use riding toys such as tricycles, wagons and scooters.  Along the riding path are stations where children can “go to the gas station”, stop and paint on an outdoor easel, build a structure with outdoor blocks, play in the sand/water table, shoot some hoops or go through an obstacle course.  A shed with plenty of found, real and purchased loose (not cemented in the ground) materials are available options for children.  If set up right your outdoor classroom can start with just a few stations and you can add and take away as your budget allows, as you learn what options there are and as you see what the children are interested in.

Teachers who have transitioned to the outdoor classroom concept often speak to its increased play value over the traditional playground structures, especially when considering the cost.  Do you need to establish or fix up your preschool playground?  Are you wanting it to be more open-ended and provide additional play and learning value?  Does your budget have limitations?  Then consider the outdoor classroom.
 

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