No matter whether it’s a beautiful beach, a neighbourhood playground or a humble backyard, the great outdoors is a treasure trove of fun activities that encourage children to play and learn in exciting and authentic ways.
While we all know that outdoor play beats watching television anyday, you might be surprised to learn that the benefits of outdoor play are just as diverse as the games that can take place outside.
Let’s explore why outdoor play is important for children’s development in closer detail.
How important is outdoor play for a child’s development?
That playground visit or tree climbing session could be even more beneficial than you might expect. There have been many studies proving the importance of outdoor play in early life and the key role it plays in supporting cognitive, social, physical and emotional development. The ideal early childhood learning environment is one that makes full use of children’s natural tendency to seek outdoor play.
Physical benefits of outdoor play
Spending time outdoors provides children with more opportunities to jog and jump, crawl and climb – all of which help build physical fitness and muscle strength. It’s impossible to replicate the diversity of the great outdoors in an indoor space, meaning children need a good amount of time outside to fully reap the benefits of physical play.
Gets kids moving
From singing birds and colourful flowers to giant trees upheld by interesting root patterns, there’s a lot to see when you’re outdoors and the only way to see it all is to keep moving!
The importance of play in inspiring movement and physical fitness lies in its ability to support overall happiness and health. No matter whether it’s running, jumping or twirling, movement helps build strength and improves fitness.
Supports healthy growth and development
Daily time outdoors is key to supporting overall growth and development. After all, playing outside can involve a whole range of activities, from running, jumping and climbing to peering under rocks and collecting leaves. As a result, children can develop their fine and gross motor skills while boosting their immune system, vitamin D levels and muscle mass.
Regular outdoor play provides ample opportunities to develop physical fitness and strengthen muscles. Keeping active helps fight off fatigue and has the additional bonus of boosting stamina and endurance, giving children more energy to continue playing!
Reduces risk of becoming sick
Spending time outdoors has a powerful effect on your child’s immune system. Fresh air actively increases oxygen levels in the body, which in turn allows your white blood cells to work to the best of their ability when supporting your immune system.
Helps build motor skills
The great outdoors is the world’s best gymnasium for gross and fine motor development. Large spaces and diverse landscapes encourage children to engage in creative activities that will develop both their fine and gross motor skills. There’s always something fascinating to run up to or point at when outdoors, no matter whether it’s a funny-shaped leaf or a particularly fluffy cloud floating by.
Climbing, running and swinging are all crucial skills that help support a child’s development but they’re often not ideally suited for your lounge room. Outside activities provide an open space for children to learn how to adjust their body weight and practice balancing, two skills that minimise the risk of physical injury.
Cognitive benefits of outdoor play
Playing outdoors stimulates a range of cognitive abilities that are critical to executive function development. Here’s a few noteworthy examples of the cognitive benefits of outdoor play:
Spatial awareness is a complex cognitive skill that is best developed outside. A natural side effect of exploring the natural world is understanding directions, distance and location. Even just by looking at something and walking over to it, a child is learning to understand how many steps it takes to reach a specific place.
Is there anything more inspiring than nature?
Playing outdoors allows children to experience first-hand the inherent creativity of nature. In a child’s mind, outdoor environments are abuzz with intriguing sites to explore. That tree could be a castle or the puddle by the fence could be an ocean swarming with sharks and fish. Nature is a fantastic setting to inspire imaginative-thinking and roleplaying games.
Problem solving skills
How can we arrange these flowers in a perfect circle even though the ground is rocky? How do we stop our ball from flying over the fence?
When playing outdoors, children will inevitably come across problems that will need to be solved, whether it’s as a team or individually. The authentic problems that will arise outdoors are difficult to replicate inside. Children can respond to the many questions posed by nature in their play as they accommodate to the ever-changing environment.
Why are there lots of bees sitting on those flowers? How come the grass is green over there but brown here? Why do those two birds look different?
Nothing elicits questions just like the great outdoors. Playing amidst nature encourages children to indulge in their curiosity by exploring, discovering and asking questions. It also provides a great setting to discuss nature, sustainability and basic scientific concepts like gravity.
Benefits of outdoor play for emotional development
When talking about the importance of outdoor play in early childhood education, it’s impossible to not mention the valuable role that it plays in supporting a child’s emotional development.
Independence and confidence
Unstructured outdoor play has numerous benefits for a child’s emotional development. The relaxing backdrop of nature is the perfect place to invent new games, explore interests and to engage decision-making skills – all of which play a vital role in supporting a child’s growing self-confidence.
Outdoor play allows children to learn new words, try out adjectives when recalling activities or sights they’ve witnessed, discuss ideas and respond to visual stimuli using their developing communication skills.
As children typically feel calmer outdoors, it’s little wonder that outdoor activities can help reduce stress and improve their emotional self-regulation. This is particularly true when playing with friends outdoors. Interacting with the ‘unpredictable’ environment of the outdoors helps foster resilience and teaches children to manage their emotional reactions and behaviour in light of their situation.
Did you know that being in nature actually decreases your heart rate? The fact that the natural environment can be a powerful force in alleviating anxiety and actively boosting serotonin and oxytocin levels means that a safe outdoor environment can be a relaxing and stimulating setting for a child’s games.
Healthy risk taking
Supervised outdoor play allows kids to experiment with mess, dirt, water and gravity! This testing and understanding of the physical environment is incredibly important in early childhood, so children can develop their healthy sense of risk-taking and resilience.
Benefits of outdoor play for social development
The more kids are able to play and interact outside, the more they can develop their social capabilities too. Whether they’re riding tricycles around a path or playing ‘shop’ in a fort, each experience is a chance to build skills including patience, negotiation, creative play and communication.
Visiting national parks and outdoor museums blends cultural learning with outdoor play. Exploring new places and historical sites can empower children to engage with their local history on a sensory level.
Cooperation and sharing
Engaging in outdoor activities with other children provides a neutral setting for them to work together towards a common goal. Building rules and working together as a team is critical for developing empathy for others.
Appreciation for the environment
An early love of nature could lead to a richer life of hiking, growing food and outdoor adventures. If children have the chance to experience things such as flowers and insects, watching plants grow and harvesting herbs and vegetables early in life, this is a great way to develop a life-long appreciation and respect for the natural environment.
Exploring the natural world allows children to think for themselves and discover interests. Experimenting with different outdoor activities also helps children to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses, providing them with more insights into their own capabilities.
Unstructured outdoor play allows children to interact with one another in a gradual, organic way through games that inspire purposeful communication and collaboration. The near-endless amount of opportunities that can arise from diverse outdoor play environments encourage children to build bonds with one another through unique experiences and seek out friendships with those that display similar interests.
The outdoors is an excellent place for children to engage in role play as they use the naturally inspiring environment to add flavour to their stories.
How Aurrum Kids promotes outdoor play
At Aurrum Kids Ballarat, Mornington and Penrith we understand just how essential outdoor play is, which is why we support this through high quality outdoor environments and appropriate outdoor play at every age. Encompassing the Early Years Learning Framework, we encourage children to explore the great outdoors with fun activities that are designed to inspire creativity and learning.
Book a tour at your local early learning centre today, and see for yourself just how enriching outdoor play can be.