Whatever your relationship with the outdoors may be, getting children outside is such a valuable experience for them. Outdoor play not only offers children exercise and an output for energy, but also supports all areas of developmental growth.

Build a Relationship With Nature

Children need to be inspired to play and outdoor play is no different. So, how can we help our children to thrive in the outdoors and really make the most of their time?  It’s up to us as parents and caregivers to provide them with the tools. When we are outside, our imaginations are able to run wild.

The World Around Us

Giving children the opportunity to explore, discover, and manipulate the environment provides endless learning experiences. Children can develop skills in math, ecology, gardening, construction, and weather.  Additionally, they will have the opportunity to increase vocabulary, understand the natural world, and recognize that our actions have an effect on nature. Digging in the dirt to find worms, exploring icicles, learning about seeds, and watching birds are all opportunities for gaining an understanding of the world we live in.

Outdoor Play & Staying Healthy

We all know that an active lifestyle is important for our physical health. Having plenty of opportunities for fresh air can help to keep away many of the germs found indoors. Outdoor play is also beneficial for our emotional health. Even something that seems as simple as taking a walk can be calming to the mind while still increasing heart rate and blood flow.  

Physical Development

Children are meant to run, jump, splash, climb and play in the dirt. All of these actions help children to develop muscle strength, and to increase balance and dexterity. Creating opportunities for physical activity outside will encourage children to seek out exercise and fresh air. Don’t be shy as the weather gets colder; outdoor play is still important.

Tools for Success

Don’t just send your child outside and expect them to know what to do. This will lead to them coming back, claiming that they are bored, and developing negative associations with outdoor play. Instead, engage them with materials that are inviting, as well as age and weather appropriate. You don’t have to be hands on with children outdoors all of the time. Outdoor independent or peer play is very important for creativity and imagination to flourish. Initially, though, you may find that you need to give your children a little jumpstart by showing them how to engage with the outside world. A few ideas to grab their attention could be:

  • Help them to create a fort using old sheets or blankets and some rope.
  • Make a mud kitchen – give them shovels, spoons, forks, various sized containers, and water. (Be sure to dress them in clothing that can get messy and prepare for bath time after!)
  • In the Winter make a snow castle with sand toys
  • Put out the sprinkler and let them run and jump
  • Provide opportunities to swing, slide, climb, and even hang upside down
  • Build snow forts and put battery powered candles inside when it gets dark
  • Wade into a pond and explore the water and natural life you can find
  • Play iSpy on a nature walk in any season. Collect items and turn them into art when you get home
  • Ask questions and encourage children to seek out the answers!

Okay now it’s time to get outside! Don’t be stuck inside like Sally and her brother from Cat in the Hat on a rainy day. No matter the weather, you can always make time for outdoor play. Even in the rain and snow, bundle up and get out for even 15 minutes. If you show joy, the child will often end up having fun too! 

About The Author

Sarah PSarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care.