The importance of outdoor play
Outdoor play helps recharge your children's batteries and improve their well-being through activities that are not possible to experience indoors. Outdoor play also strengthens children’s ability to learn, improves behaviour and provides them with a deep connection to their environment.
Outdoor play is one of the best ways for children to stay active, through running, hopping, skipping, jumping, climbing and rolling - these activities also help children develop their gross motor muscles, balance and coordination.
Healthy levels of sun exposure can help children soak up that vitamin D goodness that they need for strong bones, to fight diseases and to support their emotional well-being. This is important given the growing number of children presenting with vitamin D deficiency.
Playing in the dirt can also expose children to bacteria to build up their immunity. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that being exposed to allergens before the age of one can help prevent allergies from developing.
We are seeing more and more children presenting with anxiety and depression at a young age. Access to the outdoors is a proven way to improve wellbeing through vitamin D and exercise. In fact, "Green Therapy,” or “Ecotherapy” as it’s sometimes known, is gaining the attention of researchers, nature enthusiasts and people looking to improve their mental wellbeing.
Learning and development
Outdoor play enables children to approach and manage risks, an essential part of a child’s development. Children can practice setting challenges, becoming aware of their limits and pushing their abilities at their own pace. Children are very good at assessing what distances they can jump, how high to climb, and how to navigate challenging pathways. Sure, they will make mistakes, but this is all part of the learning process. And the more we allow children to do this, the more confident they become. It also alleviates the desire to take reckless risks when they are finally let loose as teenagers.
Playing outside in all seasons
Being outside offers children a dynamic and ever changing environment. Consider the changes that different seasons bring to smells, sounds and colours.
Sometimes you may feel like it is too cold or too hot to play outside. But as long as you are prepared with hats, sunscreen or warm winter clothes, there is no reason to stay indoors. Studies show children in Scandinavian countries, where infants sleep outside in prams all year round, have stronger immune systems than children who are cooped up in artificially heated environments.
Letting children “be” in nature
Often we can stifle creative play by enforcing rules such as “don’t climb too high” or “no playing with sticks.” Yet to optimise children’s learning experience in the great outdoors, it’s a good idea to take a step back and allow children the time to explore, use their imaginations and get dirty.
Outdoor play ideas
Even if you don’t have access to a big backyard, there is a lot you can do to ensure your child spends quality time in nature.
Use your weekends wisely
In Australian, we are lucky to have a wide range of parks and wide-open spaces where children explore, discover and connect with nature. Research playgrounds and parks online and choose a different place of interest to visit each weekend. Rivers, creeks, beaches and nature reserves are a great place to start.
Grow your own
If you have trouble accessing parks or green spaces, why not create your own? Herbs and plants can be grown in pots, or even containers, to give children the opportunity to grow and nurture their own greenery.
Taking a 10-minute walk around your neighbourhood allows children to learn about the variety of trees, plants and wildlife in your area. This gives children an insight into their local natural environment.
Choosing early childhood services
When choosing an early childhood service for your child, pay attention to its philosophy on outdoor play. Many education and care settings offer indoor/outdoor programs and have a focus on natural materials. There are many wonderful nature programs available now that enable children freedom to explore the natural environment in a supervised space. Bush kinder and Beach kinder programs are great examples.