Heavy Work or is it Play?

by Heather Fox, Education Specialist, 
Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and Nature Explore
Teenagers today have fewer and fewer opportunities to play in wild, natural areas. They spend hours indoors and at school sitting quietly in front of computer screens. In their free time, many turn to video games or television for action and entertainment instead of venturing outdoors to create real adventures of their own. Not to say computer education, technology or an occasional hour in front of the television isn’t ok.  As all of us have likely experienced, but sometimes it’s just too much.

 This week I saw some action and adventure occurring in my neighborhood and I wanted to take a closer look. Two boys, ages 12 and 13, tested their building and balancing skills as they created a hide-a-way made of heavy logs and thickets of branches. I listened to them negotiate the best way to construct a roof while one of the boys stood teetering on a very wobbly branch. They lifted long, heavy logs above their heads and rolled stumps larger than themselves into place.

When I talked with the boys they said they were building just for fun, but what I noticed was all the heavy work that was going on. “Heavy work” is a term used to describe lifting, pressing or leaning against weight or resistance. Occupational Therapists use many forms of heavy work with children and have found that it helps to develop healthy nervous systems. It allows children to practice body awareness, and can decreases anxiety levels. It can also help a distractible child become more focused or a lethargic child feel more energized.

Here are a few ideas of how to implement heavy work into your Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom:


4 responses on “Heavy Work or is it Play?”

Seth Hayden says:

Great post Heather!
We are big fans of heavy work at Country Day.
One point I would add is that whenever you need to work on your Outdoor Classroom, ask yourself, “What jobs could the children help with?” Maintaining outdoor spaces can be a major time commitment. Instead of saving these jobs for prep time, do it with the kids. In addition to all of the benefits of Heavy work you listed, this also results in, increased respect and student investment in the space, a sense of accomplishment, a better understanding of appropriate use of materials and I could go on.

Mindy O'Hara says:

This goes along with a blog I recently posted. My husband and I spend the morning watching our neighborhood children construct a bridge of logs over the pond in our complex.. The bridge turned out beautiful and the children played for hours in the mud and water… When my own children were young, we shared the work loads of projects, even the ‘heavy stuff’ and they really feel accomplished when the job is done. My son now as a young adult, does better in the work world when his job demands some form of physical labor from him. He goes stir crazy in a stand still job…says he feels more like he did something worthwhile when he has to ‘work’ at it…

chrisk says:

I am so glad that you added that comment Seth! One of the things we see and hear often about Nature Explore Classrooms that are thriving is that both children and adults feel ownership of the space. It is really empowering for children to be able to do real work and reap the benefits of their labor. (Isn’t it amazing how great vegetables harvested form a garden you watered and weeded yourself taste?!) Helping children see themselves as caretakers may be one of the best outcomes of this movement!

HeatherFox says:

So true! Children can share in many of the daily tasks in our outdoor classrooms. I have seen toddlers learn to care for their environment as they carry watering cans through their Nature Explore Classroom and water the cherry tomatoes, dill and the occasional rock.

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