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Teacher Tom gives kids a healthy dose of outdoor play

Photo: John Cornicello

For Tom Hobson — aka Teacher Tom — play, particularly outdoor, unstructured play, is a fundamentally important part of education. “Scientific research shows the reason we have a period of youth is because we must play, and outdoor play takes it up a notch,” he said. “Being indoors all day does strange things to kids. They literally bounce off the walls, then we get outside and they’ll fall on their knees and study and learn. 

“Kids are designed to be outside playing.”

That’s a big part of what the preschoolers and kindergartners do at Woodland Park Cooperative School, where Hobson teaches. The students spend half the school day inside and half outside — rain, shine, thunder or snow. Each day, they have the freedom to choose their own games and activities. 

The school in northwest Seattle also emphasizes the importance of parental involvement in kids’ education, and the school’s child-to-adult ratio is typically 2:1 thanks to parent volunteers. Hobson says that community is an invaluable ingredient in education, and older siblings of his preschool students are invited to visit the classroom themselves.

Hobson’s emphasis on incorporating outdoor play in education builds on the work of educational giants. Studies by pioneers in early childhood learning — Lev Vygotsky, Maria Montessori, John Dewey and Jean Piaget — showed that children thrive when outdoor play is a cornerstone of their school experience. 

Hobson quotes Dewey to explain his teaching philosophy in just a few words: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."

For outdoor learning inspiration, check out Hobson’s blog at teachertomsblog.blogspot.com


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