There is growing concern that children today are spending less time playing outside than in past generations. The reasons for this are probably varied but what seems clear is that it is still incredibly important for kids to spend time in the physical world. Outdoor play provides numerous benefits to children’s physical, mental, and emotional development. Additionally, some of the ancient philosophers believed that hard work (for kids it can be play) and being outdoors is crucial for building a solid intellect.
Get Those Kids Outside!
Outdoor play promotes physical development by allowing children to run, jump, climb, and engage in other forms of physical activity. This helps to develop their gross motor skills, balance, and coordination. It can stimulate children’s creativity and allows them to explore new environments and engage in unstructured play, which can help to develop problem-solving skills and promote independence. Outdoor play can also help children to develop a love of nature and a sense of curiosity about the world around them.
Spending time outside can promote emotional development by reducing stress and promoting a sense of well-being. It allows children to experience a sense of freedom and autonomy, which can promote self-confidence and self-esteem. Outdoor play can also help children to develop social skills by providing opportunities for interaction and collaboration with peers.
Aristotle Draws In The Dirt
Aristotle believed that physical activity was an essential part of intellectual growth. According to legend, Aristotle once went on a long walk with his students, during which they discussed various philosophical concepts. As they walked, Aristotle stopped to pick up a stick and began using it to draw diagrams and symbols in the dirt. One of his students asked why he was using a stick instead of a pen and paper. Aristotle replied,
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
He then went on to explain that physical activity, such as walking and using a stick to draw in the dirt, can help stimulate the mind and promote creative thinking.
Working With Your Hands Promotes Deeper Understanding
Aristotle believed that the mind and body were interconnected and that physical activity was necessary for mental growth and development. He believed that activities such as walking, running, and working with one’s hands could help to clear the mind and promote a deeper understanding of complex ideas.
In this way, Aristotle saw physical activity as a way of developing the intellect and promoting lifelong learning. He believed that by engaging in physical work and exercise, individuals could strengthen their mental faculties and become better thinkers and problem-solvers.
Play And Work Outdoors To Sharpen The Mind
As kids grow and mature, they may also use play a lot less. However, the growth they once got from play now can come in the form of meaningful work. And the need for the outdoors and the physical world shouldn’t stop there.
Cleanthes Of Assos
One inspiring story comes from the life of Cleanthes of Assos, a Stoic philosopher who studied under Zeno of Citium and succeeded him as the head of the Stoic school. Much of his life focused on perseverance and dedication to his studies despite facing extreme poverty and hardship. Cleanthes was born into a poor family and had to work long hours as a water-carrier to support himself while he studied philosophy under Zeno.
Despite his grueling schedule, Cleanthes was determined to learn everything he could from his mentor. One day, when Zeno was teaching a particularly difficult lesson, Cleanthes struggled to keep up and became frustrated. But instead of giving up, he decided to wake up early every morning and spend time studying on his own before starting his workday as a water carrier that required him to carry large jars of water on his back from a nearby spring to various households and businesses in his community.
With The Strength & Humility Of A Water Carrier
This was a common occupation for poor people in ancient Greece, and it was often looked down upon by those in higher social classes. It was a grueling and exhausting job carrying heavy loads of water through the streets of Athens where it could be dusty, hot and tiring. But it also gave him time to think and to think deeply.
His work as a water-carrier taught him the value of hard work, perseverance, and discipline, qualities that would serve him well throughout his life.
In fact, Cleanthes would later write that his experience as a water-carrier helped him develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the simple things in life. He saw beauty in the streams and springs that he visited every day, and he came to understand the importance of humility and hard work in achieving success.
Thought Exercise For Your Kids
Read or put into your own words the quick stories above about Aristotle and Cleanthes to your kids. Here are a few questions you can discuss with them.
- Reflect on how Cleanthes used his work as a water-carrier to develop his intellect and persevere in his studies despite the challenges he faced. How can you apply his example to your own life and use your own work or daily activities to help you achieve your goals and develop your own intellect?
- As a parent, do you or have you ever had a job that requires a lot of physical effort? Or perhaps a job that seems less respected by others? Share what you have learned from this type of work? What was your attitude and what did it teach you.
- Take a Walk: Go for a walk with your child and discuss different philosophical concepts, such as truth, justice, or freedom. Encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions on these topics.
- Collect Objects: As you walk, encourage your child to collect objects from nature, such as stones, sticks, or leaves.
- Draw Symbols: Once you’ve collected some objects, give your child a stick or another writing utensil and ask them to use it to draw symbols or diagrams in the dirt or sand. This will help them to connect physical activity with intellectual growth, just as Aristotle did with his students.
- Reflect: After your walk, encourage your child to reflect on their experience. Ask them how they felt during the walk and how they felt while drawing in the dirt. Did they notice any changes in their thinking or creativity as a result of the physical activity?
- Discuss the Connection: Finally, discuss with your child how physical activity, such as walking or drawing, can help to stimulate the mind and promote creative thinking. Use Aristotle’s quote, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled,” to reinforce the connection between physical work and intellectual growth.
For further discussion with kids about Stoic philosophy, be sure to check out Donald J. Robinson’s article “Stoicism For Children”. For teenagers, we have really enjoyed reading Lives Of The Stoics by Ryan Holiday and he devotes a chapter to Cleanthes of Assos.
And finally, for more learning about Aristotle, take a look at my lesson plan for his take on having friends What Did Aristotle Look For In A BFF?