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The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child has released a new working paper examining the impact of built and natural environments on children’s development and lifelong health and recently hosted a panel discussion on this topic, emphasizing the opportunity to improve these environments for the healthy development of all children.

St. David’s Center, with over 60 years of experience creating environments in classrooms, gyms, and outdoor spaces, has long recognized the significance of surroundings in shaping individuals. The summer season in Minnesota serves as a timely reminder to harness the power of outdoor play, given green spaces play a vital role in children’s development.

Our incredible outdoor spaces span 10 acres, including a school forest, wetland boardwalk, two playgrounds, and outdoor classrooms, one of which borders Minnehaha Creek. Our grounds give children in our care the chance to explore, get curious, and have fun.

Running, climbing, jumping, and playing games outside isn’t just fun. Being outside is necessary given the benefits on physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development:

  • running and climbing improves their coordination, strength, and balance
  • exploring the natural textures and objects around them develops fine motor skills
  • children engage their senses, recognize patterns, and understand how things work, turning the outdoors into a real-life classroom
  • exposure to green spaces can improve attention span and cognitive abilities
  • freely exploring outdoor spaces fosters imagination, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking
  • being outside with friends or family facilitates social connections and the creation of lasting memories
  • children learn communication, cooperation, and problem-solving as a team
  • nature has a calming effect that helps children regulate their emotions

So many childcare centers and preschools have big plastic play structures and minimal open space on their playgrounds, so often overlooking highways. It’s no surprise they schedule less than an hour outside each day, with teachers often standing along the perimeter. In contrast, with the incredible spaces we’ve created with input from early childhood teachers, occupational therapists, and mental health therapists, we build in more than two hours every day throughout the year.  And our teachers and therapists can’t wait to get outside, too!

Time outdoors is critical for the emotional, social, and physical health and wellbeing of all of us. At St. David’s Center, we’ve always understood that. We’re grateful for all the support – both time and treasure – to ensure our ten acres remain the safe and nurturing mix of built and natural environments children need to thrive and grow.  Feels great to have Harvard University science on our side! 

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