What are some of your fondest memories of childhood? Take a moment and think of two or three memories that make you smile…. Are any of them with you outside and enjoying the outdoors? I bet the answer is yes! The freedom, the adventure and the joy of childhood often takes place in the sunshine outside of a home, classroom or building. It takes place while being in nature, walking down a sidewalk with a best friend, running in a park, or swinging from the trees. In short, outdoor play is an essential component of a healthy childhood.
The Benefits of Going Outside
My family loves to be outside! Over our spring break, we did a tour of local parks, had a grand time, and it was really a cheap vacation. We talked about the different designs of playscapes, our favorite trees and we even made new friends.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) sites nine benefits of going outside:
- Invites children to learn science
- Creates opportunities for social interaction and collaboration
- Promotes physical health
- Invites new contexts for learning
- Promotes better sleep
- Gives children a chance to take appropriate risks
- May lead to better learning outcomes once children return to other activities
- Supports STEM skills
- Anchors children to the real world
Enjoying the Outdoors
All these reasons and the most important one is missed – It is also just FUN for children to be free and outside! In our busy lives, its great to slow down and take our children out into nature to enjoy the outdoors. Also, no hovering and no yelling at them to “BE SAFE!”.
I don’t let my kids have a free for all, but we try to intervene less and wait for them to ask for help. (See number 6 in the list!) This is one I struggle with as I watch them climb or run full sprint across a field. My mom brain is yelling “STOP” and I must suppress the need to be running next to them. But when children take risks, it builds confidence, self-reliance, and resilience. These are the skill sets we want our children to have in school and life. Who knew letting them play outside now would build these skills so treasured?
Outdoor Play in Childcare
Enjoying the outdoors with young children isn’t just important at home. In high quality childcare, outside time is also a priority. Planned places to play, get dirty, take risks by balancing on a cut log, find bugs, and make mud pies are all signs outside play is important to the program. Children should be allowed to explore the outside environment even if it is raining (no thunder/no lightning). Puddles to splash in and rain falling from the sky are opportunities for learning that cannot be recreated in a classroom. Life outdoors is ever more interesting than our man-made environments.
Outside is an important part of our lives. It helps us be healthy, grounds us to the real world and evokes feelings of wonder and joy. Carve out some time to be together with your family outside and encourage your early childhood program to spend quality time in nature. Enjoy the Spring weather and have some fun in the breeze!