Why the Library Proposal Includes Outdoor Space for Kids

Access to media of all kinds has brought the universe to our front door, allowing us to experience anything we want in an instant, from the life of the tiniest microbes to views from the tallest mountains. And yet, ironically, this technology has also pulled us farther and farther away from the natural world just beyond that door. There are so many structured opportunities for kids that we have forgotten how important it is to take them outside and let them get dirty. There is a growing movement to get kids back to nature, and the library is on board!

In the link below, Claire McCarthy, M.D., faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing, talks about the many ways outdoor play is crucial to early development. She says unstructured outdoor play provides children with six crucial benefits: sunshine, exercise, executive function (the skills that help us plan, prioritize, negotiate and multi-task), risk-taking, socialization and an appreciation of nature. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-reasons-children-need-to-play-outside-2018052213880

How do we ensure that children spend more time outside and less time in front of a screen? There is a growing list of nation-wide initiatives designed to return families to nature. The National Wildlife Federation has a webpage with suggestions and resources. It has launched an initiative called The Green Hour, which recommends that families strive for at least one unstructured hour of free time outdoors every day. https://www.nwf.org/Kids-and-Family/Connecting-Kids-and-Nature.

Maybe you’ve seen the viral videos of young children who are out in the rain learning and playing. Those are Forest School students. They spend most of the school day outside. Forest preschool programs are popping up all over the country, based on European models. Their motto is “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” https://www.ed.gov/content/path-begins-forest-kindergarten.

Libraries across the country are getting in on the nature-play movement as well, with increased outdoor programming and creative outdoor spaces. Right here on Long Island you can visit the Nature Explorium, an incredible space for play and programming, located at the Middle Country Public Library. http://www.natureexplorium.org/explorium.html The space has a running water feature, a “build-it” STEM area, reading spaces, an outdoor stage and much more.

Our current library has no outdoor spaces. We do our best to provide as many fun outdoor activities off-site as possible through our “On the Road” programs, including Kahler’s Pond picnics, our South Haven Park Stroller Club, summertime “Water Play Day” and sandcastle building meet-ups at the beach. If the bond to renovate the main library and create two small branches passes on December 10, we will have dedicated outdoor space at all times, to provide regular programs as well as year-round community activities.  Imagine open-air concerts on a breezy summer evening surrounded by butterflies in a pollinator garden we all created together. Imagine a spur-of-the-moment “Snow Day,” where we gather at the library after a snowstorm for hot cocoa and snowman building.

Look at the plan for library renovations and remember to vote on the library bond on December 10 in Meeting Room A.