Playing outdoors is crucial in the physical and mental development of children. In its simplest form, playing outside is a good way for children to get their daily exercise. With one out of three children overweight or obese, being active is critically important for the health of children. Lack of outdoor play has been linked to such problems as childhood obesity, increased reliance on behavior regulating medications, low self-esteem, and lower academic performance. Improving a child’s health and well-being might be as simple as sending him or her outside to play!
Outdoor play and exploration can promote learning across all developmental domains and help ensure overall health, fitness, respect for the environment, positive social relationships, and readiness in academic subjects including science, math, language arts, and more! According to the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play, playing outside improves children’s gross motor skills, which increases their ability to process and remember new information. Furthermore, interacting with nature and other kids outside helps to stimulate the curiosity and creativity of children, and also boosts their confidence as they learn new things.
A generation ago, playing outdoors in nature was a given. Times have changed. TV and computer use, unsafe neighborhoods, busy and tired parents, and elimination of school recess are just a few reasons children are spending less time outdoors. Many modern American children are likely to find themselves in the “highly scheduled” category, where life is a constant shuffle between school, sports, church, camps, lessons, or various other activities. This daily shuffle can be overwhelming and more often than not, playing outside is the last thing they want to do. So, what can you do to increase outdoor play for children in your care?
Try some of these tips to increase outdoor play:
- “Buddy up” with other families and take turns bringing a group of kids to a park, sports field, or green space. Set clear boundaries and allow the kids to move freely and play throughout the areas.
- Go on a nature walk. Whether you’re in a city, suburb, or rural area, a nature walk is a simple way to get your kids outside. Kids can observe trees, bugs, and birds along the way.
- Consider having a sandbox, water table or other toys and play stations. Create small natural spaces or areas where kids can build forts and create their own play space.
- Allow your kids to plant a garden in raised beds or planter boxes. Have your kids make all the choices and do the work; from seeding through harvest.
Children’s bodies want to move! They want to run, jump, climb, crawl, skip, lift, and leap. They want to explore, imagine, solve problems, experiment, take risks, and have fun. Their eyes want natural sunlight, and their lungs want fresh air. The outdoors offers all these things, and much more. What can you do to put more outdoors in your curriculum? No matter where you’re based, whether it’s urban, suburban, or rural, a great outdoor classroom is possible. It could make all the difference in a young child’s life.
Article Credit: Childcare Education Institute, July 2015 Newsletter