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Kate Irish's picture
The first time I realized the power of nature and outdoor time for children was when my daughter was just 6 weeks old. We were having an especially difficult afternoon. I felt like I had been holding her for hours while she cried and I couldn’t get her to calm down. Finally, I walked out our back door with her onto our deck, more in frustration than anything else. I started pacing around our deck and pretty soon I realized that she had stopped crying. I started walking around our yard and she stayed calm.
It felt like magic but as I looked around I realized that being outside really was soothing, for both of us. As my two daughters have grown, outdoor time has remained an integral part of our life. I have seen my girls and other children on the playground form friendships, explore nature, use their imaginations in amazing ways, and learn through play, observation and exploration.
Of course there is a lot of research that shows both the importance of outdoor time and unstructured play for children. It seems kind of obvious but there are studies now that prove a lot of what we already know – outdoor play provides the physical, social, emotional and cognitive opportunities that children need to focus and learn.
So given all of this I was shocked and dismayed when I went to tour kindergartens all over our community to find such an incredible lack of outdoor time for young children. How is it possible that children in elementary school are outside for recess 20 minutes or less each day? I toured traditional public elementary schools, magnet schools and charter schools. With few exceptions, most kids are going outside one time a day for 30 minutes (that includes transition time so it’s usually more like 20 minutes). And even more crazy is that many schools schedule their recess time for the very end of the day!?!
As I began talking with people and reading about this issue, I learned that some communities are making dramatic shifts to expand recess and outdoor time. National articles have been circulating about Fort Worth, Texas which has implemented 4 recesses per day based on Finland’s model. And they are seeing great results. 
In Durham, North Carolina, a group of parents is working on the expansion of recess time as well. Parents are working together to reach out to teachers at local elementary schools through surveys to determine if and how expanded recess may benefit children. The next step will be talking with the school district administration.
Outdoor time is so important for children as they grow and learn. We need to work to expand recess time in our schools, support teachers to provide outdoor learning opportunities as part of the curriculum and provide engaging and safe outdoor play spaces at our schools and in our communities. 
Please contact your local schools and administration to express your concern and desire for expanded recess and outdoor time.
Please also contact state leaders. North Carolina is in the process of creating its state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA emphasizes a well-rounded education, prioritizing physical and mental health. We need to tell state education leaders that additional recess time and outdoor learning opportunities should be in North Carolina’s plan. A great way to give this input is through submitting a comment to the NC Department of Public Instruction: 
Here is a great article for more information about the importance of recess: 

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