These days, children are spending a worrying amount of time indoors. With streaming services, games consoles and so much available on screen, our children are missing out on the benefits of outdoor play.
Research shows that “Hands-on learning, the natural environment and loose parts in the outdoors stimulate children’s senses through what they hear, touch, see and feel”, and outdoor play equipment and activity helps children develop a number of skills and life lessons.
Here are seven benefits to outdoor play and learning:
Learning through play
Outdoor play in early years is especially important for learning and development. Outdoor educational equipment like this messy kitchen encourages children to think about the world and learn about the nature that’s around them. It also helps develop their curiosity and think of learning as something fun – not always in the classroom.
Increased creativity: Playing outside is like a different, wider world of learning for children. They’re not confined by four walls or by the toys they have inside. It gives them the chance to be creative with their games and make believe they’re somewhere else.
Growing stronger, becoming fitter
Their health is another reason that outdoor play and learning is important. We all absorb valuable vitamin D from being in the sun, and playing outdoors also gives children so much more room to run and get active. It improves their fitness, helps them grow and allows them burn off any excess energy.
Less scary, more social
Outdoor spaces are generally areas where kids let loose, and they’re less crowded too. This gives children the space to come out of their shells and be a bit more social. They’re often more inclined to join in games and talk to people – to make new friends. These are important social skills that can’t always be gained in a classroom with adult supervision.
Keeping them happy and healthy
Wellbeing and mental health are hot topics at the moment and outdoor play and learning can really help children manage their feelings. Improving attitudes through play and mental health through exercise have been key ideas in playgrounds since the time of Friedrich Froebel – a noted German educator. And it’s still true today. As well as mood-improving Vitamin D, we know that playing outside can help children work through any negative emotions thereby make them more focused in the classroom.
Gaining their independence
As well as learning to play with others, outdoor play and learning gives children a taste of independence – of learning to play on their own and making their own decisions. It’s one of the first chances they have to do something like that.
“Play is considered children’s “work” and is the vehicle through which children acquire knowledge and skills, allowing children to engage independently and with others.” UNICEF
Encouraging them to explore
Outdoor play equipment is generally more adventurous than what children have to play with indoors. It’s often larger and geared more towards exploring and trying new things, which helps children push their boundaries and learn to address risk. This kind of activity builds confidence and independence, and helps children understand their limits.
So, why is outdoor play important?
In the early years you learn a lot and you learn quickly. Giving children the chance to play outside during this time has multiple benefits – the climbing frames, slides and swing sets work hand-in-hand with the classroom to help children develop important life skills.