The Magic of Outdoor Play
Did you know trees are the world’s largest plants, covering approximately one-third of the Earth’s land surface?
Hello, and welcome to our first blog post!
This one looks at the magic of outdoor play, it’s benefits and all the endless possibilities.
There obviously isn’t a one size-fits-all solution to outdoor play and those outside spaces will vary between families and seasons but generally children (and adults) can reap many benefits from being active outdoors.
Being outdoors exposures us to natural light, even in those gloomy winter days! Sunlight increases our vitamin D levels and can also enhance physical and mental health (Leichtfried et al 2015; Te Kulve et al 2017). Let’s be honest, who doesn’t feel better in the sun shine!? Sun light grants us with a rich collection of natural health benefits as this exposure to natural light stimulates the production of hormones vital for a healthy mind and body! Perhaps the most noticeable on a daily basis is the effects natural sunlight can have on our mental well-being this is because sunlight aids the stimulation of our brains to produce the serotonin (Gabel et al 2013). Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical and it acts as a natural anti-depressant!
When exploring, adventuring, playing outside, children grow emotionally, spiritually and academically by developing an overall appreciation for their natural environment. Getting outside can encourage and enhance children’s vocabulary and understanding of concepts – I mean there really is no better way of understanding the change in seasons than seeing it with your own eyes, is there? From jumping in puddles to realizing they’ve iced over one today is pretty magical! Think alongside your cub, I wonder why that happened? Being naturally curious, children absorb all this every day! Ice is slippery? Let’s look into forces and friction, why can we slip on ice? Participating in imaginative play and acquiring an understanding of basic 'academic' concepts such as investigating properties of objects and of how to use simple tools to accomplish a task is a fantastic skill set to learn outdoors (Kosanke & Warner, 1990; Guddemi & Eriksen, 1992; Singer & Singer, 2000)!
One activity we love doing it making ice sun catchers! Collecting treasures to freeze in a little water is a great time filler and encourages lots of language and discussion on why we should collect things like fallen leaves and sticks, rather than pulling flowers from the ground. It is said children who have positive experiences with nature are more likely to behave in ways that protect the environment and develop an appreciation for wildlife.
Outdoor play also offers our little cubs the opportunities to explore their local surroundings and community; enjoy hands-on sensory experiences with water, sand and mud for example; find or create their own places for play; collect 'treasures’ and develop interests and hobbies. In fact, research shows that between Pre-K age and around grade 7, a child’s body experiences its greatest physical growth, as demonstrated by our child’s urge to run, climb, and jump in outdoor spaces (Noland et al, 1990; Cooper et al, 1999; Janz et al, 2000).
How many times have we found ourselves saying, “please walk inside, running is for outside”? Enabling children to increase their activity levels and have greater freedom to practice their gross motor skills provides them with the opportunity to run, jump, climb – all of which can also aid with stress reduction and brain development for clearer thoughts and increased learning abilities (Hannaford, 1995; Clements, 2000; Gabbard, 1998; Jenson, 2000) Opportunity to engage in natural outdoor play allows children to gain an understanding about their physical abilities and their impact on the world around them. This ‘risky’ play is a magical part of childhood development, where they can gradually learn what is safe and what is not so safe. They basically develop their own internal risk management! So, climbing that tree? Yes - developing gross motor skills! Strengthening arm and hand muscles also aids the fine motor skill development in time, meaning children can then write easily when ready! But with this, children also learn to manage their actions and develop resilience. (More on resilience and growth mind-set next time!)
I find nurturing their interest in nature and the outdoors provides lots of depth to our home-school. I created a nature scavenger hunt (free download available: here) enabling my girls to run through and locate the items, ticking them off as they found them. I left it fairly vague like “leaf” so we could discuss which variety they had seen and prompted them to describe it and research it if they were not sure. We love taking trips to our local library to source books and often use these self-chosen topics as a starting point for our research and art projects.
Watch our adventure here, we went to Margaret Falls for this one!
Now we’re going out, the girls dressed in princess dresses, to build a den and hopefully find a few ‘magic potions!”
Let me know your little Cub’s favourite activity outdoors and share your nature play photographs with us on Instagram here!
Have fun, and See The Magic in Every Day!
Clements, R. (2000) Playworkers: creating opportunities for children’s play, Dimensions of Early Childhood, 28(4), pp. 9-13.
Cooper, K.H., Schwarzenegger, A. & Proctor, W. (1999) Fit Kids!The Complete Shape-up Program from Birth Through High School. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.
Gabbard, C. (1998) Windows of Opportunity for Early Brain and Motor Development, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 69(8), pp. 54-61.
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Guddemi, M. & Eriksen, A. (1992) Designing Outdoor Learning Environments for and with Children, Dimensions of Early Childhood, 20(4), pp. 15-24
Hannaford, C. (1995) Smart Moves:why learning is not all in your head. Arlington: Great Ocean Publishers.
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Singer, D. & Singer, J. (2000) Make-believe: games and activities for imaginative play. Washington, DC: Magination Press.
Te Kulve M, Schlangen LJM, Schellen L, Frijns AJH, van Marken Lichtenbelt WD. 2017. The impact of morning light intensity and environmental temperature on body temperatures and alertness. Physiol Behav. 175:72-81.