Book: Barefoot and Balanced: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom

Recommended by: Avery Cook, Health and Wellness Specialist & Elementary Childcare Coordinator


Humans have always had a driving urge to investigate things around us; it’s part of the reason we became so successful as a species. But things have changed in our culture. There is less exploration of the natural world around us and more investigation of technology, more sitting, more structure, and thus, less development of the skills that enable and prepare students for adulthood — let alone childhood. Angela J. Hanscom, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and founder of TimberNook, offers some explanation of and some solutions to the consequences of this cultural shift in her book Barefoot and Balanced: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children.

From the title, you probably already know how Hanscom feels about the subject. Similarly, as Montessorians (or parents of Montessorians), we already prize our students interacting with a world that is real. We send them off each day to explore a world that does not stack the deck in their favor but offers challenges honestly, a world that waits for our students to gather the skills to meet each challenge, and a world that prepares them for future challenges. One simple yet invaluable tool we have as educators and parents to help our children build the skills they need to be successful in this exploration is unrestricted play. Unrestricted play in nature offers really important opportunities to develop certain acuities that can’t be learned sitting in a classroom. In her book, Hanscom delves into the world of child development, explaining how children can advance in many really important skills just by playing outside. One common misconception of play may be that physical skills are the only thing children can learn outside, but the development of fine and gross motor skills is only one of many benefits. Development of abstract skills such as sensory integration, emotional regulation, resilience, social-emotional intelligence, and many others are just as important. These skills are the building blocks of well-rounded individuals and Hanscom provides suggestions for how to encourage students of all ages to develop them.

This book may be a bit heavy with anecdotal stories, but it essentially reads like a how-to guide for outside play, backing it up with some pretty interesting research and theories across all stages of childhood development. The book offers age-appropriate outdoor-based education and free play opportunities and even provides suggestions for different environments depending on what setting you live in.

If you cannot get this book in stores, it is available through Kalamazoo Public Library in ebook and audiobook forms through Hoopla.

Avery graduated from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a minor in Biology. She has been at The Montessori School since 2015, working as an Assistant in the Juniper room, and as the Childcare Coordinator for the Primary classrooms. In her current role as the Health and Wellness Specialist, she leads group activities and lessons in collaborative games, movement, anatomy, emotional literacy, nutrition, and much more. Her education and varied work history have instilled a passion for learning as much as she can about new subjects.