Play outdoors to improve reading!

Outdoor Play

Yes, you read that correctly! Time and again we come across educators and parents who are struggling to reconcile their knowledge of the importance of time outdoors (and play!) and their desire for improved academic outcomes for children.

The good news is that the two do not need to compete! We have witnessed first-hand the results of research indicating that outdoor play and learning can improve language, concentration, self-regulation, reading and more.
The real focus…should be not just on vocabulary and reading,
but on talking and listening.
Erika Christakis, Author of The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grown-ups
Have you listened to a five year old deeply immersed in rich, imaginative play as he sets up a shop, encourages his friends to purchase his produce and barter over the price? Have you sat in awe as your four year old finds the words to share their excitement over discoveries made on the foreshore or the thrill of jumping in the thick, oozy mud?
Pre-school teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary in informal classroom settings predicted their students’ reading comprehension and word knowledge in fourth grade. 
Erika Christakis, Author of The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grown-ups
This is exciting! The complexity of language used increases in outdoor spaces.  Immersed in rich and imaginative play, children play alongside each other; negotiating ‘rules’ and conflict and sharing their joy.
The richest forms of pretend play occur in gardens that provide natural features
and materials such as trees, grass, twigs and pebbles.

Frankin, M.B. (2008)  Words in play: Children’s use of language in pretend. In E. Goodenough (Ed.), A place for play. A companion volume to the Michigan television film ‘‘Where do the children play?’’.
We encourage you to provide opportunities for your children or class to talk more – to make space for the art of conversation!


Need more reasons to play outdoors? Let’s take a look at how body system checks can support learning, with a particular focus on the workings on the Vestibular System.


Can you name the five senses? Did you know there’s more than five? Here’s a quick glance at the commonly overlooked, but very vital, Vestibular System. This is our ‘balance sense’. Occupational Therapist and author of Balanced and Barefoot, Angela Hanscom, notes that this is, ‘often one of the most overlooked, yet one of the most essential of our senses.’
A fully functioning vestibular system supports all six of our eye muscles. It acts similarly to the tripod of a camera, keeping the eyes steady so a child can focus on objects. It also allows for smooth and accurate scanning to search for objects.
Angela Hanscom, Author of Balanced and Barefoot

I’m sure you can see how vital this would be for reading (keeping eyes steady and smooth scanning). The Vestibular System also impacts attention, our visual sense and auditory sense.

Jo Jackson King, a West Australian Occupational Therapist and author of Raising the Best Possible Child, suggests the following to build the Vestibular System:

  • Rolling
  • Twirling/spinning
  • Hanging upside down
  • Singing
  • Seesaws

These are movements that can happen so naturally if we simply take the first steps to provide space and opportunity. This isn’t ‘just play’. This is childhood development and school readiness at its best – it’s free and it’s fun. But the cost is great for our children if we do not provide opportunities for this sort of play in our schools, early childhood centres and homes.

Vestibular System