Outdoor play is a lot of fun for young children, but it’s also essential for their development. Spending time outside in playgrounds, forests, at the beach, or in the garden allows kids to enjoy themselves whilst all kinds of great advances are made in their mind and body.
It’s important to understand the benefits of outdoor play for the children in your care, so that you can encourage them to do more of it, knowing it not only results in their fun, but their enhanced wellbeing, too.
Here are 5 reasons why outdoor play is essential for early years development.
1. Physical development
As children play outside, running, jumping and using age-appropriate early years playground equipment, they are making all kinds of physical gains.
They are using and growing various muscle groups and bones, while also using their cardiovascular system and getting their recommended 180 minutes of exercise a day. Coordination, balance and spatial awareness is being challenged and developed. They are also developing fine and gross motor skills, and by being outdoors, they are even reducing their chance of short-sightedness.
2. Ability to enjoy messy play
Outdoor play for kids means messy play. Exploring the climbing frame, making mud pies, jumping in leaves and puddles – all this allows early years children to be creative, to discover different textures freely, to explore and express their imagination, and to make connections about the world around them.
Nature play can also inspire open ended thinking and thinking outside of the box. This is a valuable skill that can be embraced and utilised throughout adult life.
3. Mental wellbeing
Studies tell us that being outside does wonders for both adults and children alike. For early years kids, outdoor play can build confidence and self esteem. They learn that nature can help them to safely express emotions, and that they are in control of those emotions. It helps them to be creative and learn how to play out imaginary scenarios that explore their feelings, and their emotional response to situations in their life. They get a multi-sensory immersive experience where they touch, see, smell and hear their environment. This can allow them to completely switch off from everyday life.
Being outside also allows children to exercise, which is a mood booster and helps promote better sleep. These benefits can in turn lead to better mental wellbeing and stress tolerance in young children.
4. Imaginative play
Outdoor play with mud kitchens and similar equipment helps children to be creative and practice imaginary play. They can pretend to be grown ups, animals, talking plants, or aliens. They can be steering a ship, driving a car, fighting a medieval battle from the castle walls – the possibilities are endless.
With this imaginative play comes the development of all kinds of skills; social skills, problem-solving, language, emotional regulation, and expression.
5. Time away from screens
Children will have time in front of screens to watch cartoons and interact with digital learning platforms – it’s a normal part of modern childhood. However, too much screen time is known to cause kids to be less physically active, suffer disrupted sleep, have headaches, eye strain, decreased cognitive function and attention spans, lowered energy levels and more.
Playing outside helps children to experience beneficial play, away from screens. They can engage with others and the world around them safely, aiding in their development and progress.
“Children still need a childhood with dirt, mud, puddles, trees, sticks and tadpoles.” – Brooke Hampton
With all of the above and more, there is every reason to get early years children outside in all weathers to have fun in the fresh air. It’s not just what they want, or what makes them smile – it’s what they need in order to progress. Our quotes about children and nature will give you even more inspiration to get kids playing outside.