As summer is fast approaching, you may be spending more time outside with the children in your care. Playing outdoors has many positive impacts on a young child’s development and is the perfect way to incorporate exercise in to play. Being outside for just three hours every day, has benefits for a child’s brain and body development, whilst also improving their mental and emotional wellbeing. The outside world allows children to explore all of their senses including sight, touch and sound, creating opportunities for awe and wonder. In contrast to being indoors, going outside encourages children to go on adventures and build their confidence. Children are able to explore all kinds of natural elements such as; feeding the birds, gardening, exploring clay, mud, sand and water; these activities also nourish their ecological identity and understanding.

What skills does outdoor play help children develop?

Social skills and peer-to-peer interaction: In outdoor play, children have the freedom to engage with their peers and interact with one another. Playing with other children outdoors encourages; cooperation, sharing, negotiation, and conflict resolution. They may play co-operatively together or alongside each other. Outdoor play also encourages children to develop their imagination as they take part in role-play activities.

Language Skills: Engaging with the outdoor environment provides a valuable opportunity for children to improve their vocabulary by discussing the various elements found in nature. By describing plants, animals, and weather conditions, children can learn new words and expressions. By interacting and speaking with each other in this natural setting, they can exchange ideas, ask questions, and deepen their understanding of the language.

Gross Motor Skills: Outdoor play allows children to use their whole body. This includes actions such as; climbing, running, bouncing, and jumping. Being outdoors also greatly improves a child’s spatial awareness which refers to a child’s ability to manage risks and navigate through equipment, learning to avoid bumping into objects and being mindful of looking ahead rather than behind when walking.

Cognitive Benefits: Unstructured outdoor play encourages children to use their imagination, fostering creativity and problem-solving skills. Outdoor environments offer endless opportunities for exploration, helping children learn about the natural world and develop curiosity. Exposure to natural settings has also been shown to improve focus and attention spans in children; especially those with ADHD.

Emotional Benefits: Being in nature has a calming effect, reducing stress and anxiety levels, and outdoor play often leads to increased levels of happiness and well-being. Navigating outdoor spaces and engaging in physical challenges can also help to build self-confidence and independence.

Here are some fun and educational outdoor activities to do with young children:

Mud Kitchen: Set up a play kitchen with pots, pans, and utensils for children to make pretend meals using mud and natural ingredients.

Obstacle Course: Create a simple obstacle course with items like cones, ropes, and hula hoops for children to navigate.

Water Play: Set up a splash pad, small pool, or sprinklers for children to enjoy water activities. This is a also a great way to keep the children cool!

Planting Seeds: Teach children how to plant seeds and take care of a garden. They can watch the plants grow and learn about the life cycle of plants.

Bug Hunt: Explore the garden or park to find different insects and learn about their habitats.

Nature Sensory Bin: Fill a bin with natural items like pine cones, leaves, and acorns for children to explore with their senses.

Sound Hunt: Sit quietly and listen to different sounds in nature, such as; birds chirping, leaves rustling, or water flowing.

Here are some tips to keep children safe while they play outside:

Establish Boundaries: Set clear physical boundaries where children can play and explain the importance of staying within those limits.

Appropriate Clothing: Dress children in weather-appropriate clothing, including hats and sunscreen for sunny days, and layers for colder weather.

Check the Area: Inspect the play area for hazards such as; sharp objects, broken equipment, poisonous plants, and insect nests.

Sun Protection: Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and reapply every two hours. Provide sunglasses and hats for additional protection from the sun.

Stay Hydrated: Bring plenty of water and encourage children to drink regularly, especially on hot days.

Healthy Snacks: Pack nutritious snacks to keep energy levels up during extended outdoor play.

Teach Safety Rules: Explain and enforce safety rules such as; no pushing, taking turns on playground equipment, and not climbing on unsafe structures.