The advantages of outdoor play for children are well-noted. Whilst many parents love to send their children outside to play - less noise and mess inside the house! - the list of perks of doing so is quite extensive. Early childcare centres know the benefits of outdoor activity for children so they look to maximise the amount of time children spend outside. Here are just some of the ways outdoor activity and play are beneficial to children:
- The opportunity for hands-on learning in the natural environment helps to stimulate a child’s senses via everything they see, smell, hear and touch.
- By exploring the world around them they gain an understanding and appreciation for it.
- Room to move! More space to dance, jump, run, throw, kick and all the physical activities that are key to a healthy physical development including greater co-ordination, agility, and balance.
- It provides an opportunity to use their imagination and creativity when inventing their own games, beyond the four walls of their home.
- It provides an opportunity to build on their social skills by playing with friends, along with decision-making and problem-solving.
- They gain a sense of independence as they explore outside the confines of their home and take (limited and measured) risks outside such as “can I swing across these monkey bars?”.
- Outdoor activity can lead to a lower body mass index and increased fitness levels due to more physical activity.
- Safe exposure to sunlight improves moods and can strengthen the immune system.
You certainly don’t need expensive play equipment or a large backyard for your child to be able to enjoy the outdoors. Here are just some of the creative ways to encourage children to spend more time outdoors, whether that’s within your own backyard and beyond:
- Create a treasure hunt – kids love the challenge of searching for hidden clues and finding the “treasure” at the end.
- Provide simple equipment and resources for your child to explore and try. Sports balls, a skipping rope or a small racquet and ball kit can be purchased for a small investment.
- Encourage your child to help outdoors with the gardening, or to help hang up the washing. This helps them develop a greater sense of responsibility when they are encouraged to help.
- Give your child a basket or box and encourage them to collect interesting natural objects like different coloured leaves from within their yard or in a park nearby. These items can be taken inside and explored further.
- Take a walk around your neighbourhood and head in a direction you don’t normally go. Let your child choose the route and see where you end up!
- Find a local basketball or tennis court and play as a family.
ACECQA (The Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority) has noted that time spent outside by children when they play and explore gives them opportunities to ‘explore, discover and appreciate the natural world, as well as be active, strengthen fine and gross motor movement skills, test physical limits and get messy.’
It is strongly encouraged that all children, including babies, spend time in the outdoors as part of their daily routine. And of course, always remember the importance of sun protection (sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing) when sending them out to explore their world.