I am reading a fantastic book right now, Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. The book discusses “Nature Deficit Disorder,” the loss of children’s connection to the outdoors and nature, and how it very much impacts both the physical and psychological health of young people.
For children with autism, spontaneous play is a skill that often requires strategy and development in a therapeutic or home setting. I often describe my exercise sessions with kids as “structured chaos.” It is, really, teaching spontaneous play. Ironically, teaching spontaneity requires a structured approach. For example, if I do not have the pre-requisite skills to climb up a tree, slide, or ladder, how would I engage in that activity on the playground or in another novel setting? A good fitness program develops the foundational skills for movement so that a child can generalize those abilities to new and enriched environments. Structure allows for creativity. If I ask you to simply “Draw something” there is far too wide a scope. Too many options. If, however, I ask you to “Draw your favorite four-legged animal” I help to focus in on an idea, which allows you more creative room. The blueprint already exists. So it is too with physical fitness. The more general skills we have (pushing, pulling, squatting, rotation, locomotion) the more we are able to engage in novel forms of play. Play is precious, important chaos.