Outdoor fun

The Benefits Of Outdoor Play

by Jenni Evans

When your child’s attitude is headed south, what is something that almost always ‘works’ as a distraction, mood-booster or solution?

Some parents may think first of a favorite toy, food (fish crackers!) or screen-time to help curb the whining. But upon further consideration, most realize that those are temporary fixes and they certainly don’t do anything to benefit the child or the parent-child relationship.

One of the most popular go-to activities, whether bored or excited or out-of-sorts, is to go outside—because outside works, and with good reason.

Think about your childhood, sometime before you were eight years old. Remember a favorite place to play. Think about it in as much detail as possible. Chances are you remember the way it looked, the way it felt, and maybe even some of the people you played with there; it was probably outside.

Outdoor play and experiences are often remembered as multi-sensory, group-oriented, and freeing. But don’t just do it because it feels good; It also enhances development and learning.

Nature boosts development for young children in several ways:

– so much to talk about and explore;

– surprise, excitement, wonder, curiosity and fewer limits on expression (read: no need for “inside voices”);

Motor skills
– the open, changing, and “imperfect” outside environment encourages balance, crawling/cruising/walking, even perception and focus as children examine and discover the sights and sounds. For older children, learning to ride a bike and playing running games increases coordination and strength;

Brain development and learning
– sensory experiences are the primary process of learning in the early years. As children grow, nature continues to boost curiosity, relevance, and memory – essential to healthy cognitive development and learning;

– outdoor play can be a great “equalizer” for children whose high energy and “big personalities” make more controlled play a challenge;

– interaction with nature provides a better understanding of the importance of a healthy environment. Opportunities to help and care for the environment support the development of caring, pro-social behavior;

– outside play fosters healthy physical development by promoting whole-body play: exercise!

So whether it’s an evening walk around the block, a game of hide-n-seek in the yard, or a bike ride in the park, get out. Remember not to over-plan. Invite a few friends. And don’t wait for perfect weather—just be prepared for what you’ve got. If parents are their children’s first teachers, nature is the second.

Outside environments and experiences boost learning, support healthy development, and create lifelong memories.

 Want more summer fun ideas? Check out our article, “Summer in the City.”

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