Outdoor play is an important part of a child’s development. Outdoors is a stimulating and multi-sensory place to play. Children are naturally drawn to the outdoors, and it allows them to explore their environment, and gain self-confidence.
Being outside allows children to use their whole body and develop their gross motor skills by:
- Allowing a child to express themselves through moving their body.
- Fine tune their motor skills; jumping, running, hopping or skipping.
- Practicing their ball skills; throwing, catching and striking.
- Performing manipulative skills; pushing a swing, pulling a wagon, lifting and moving objects.
Being physical outdoors is a way of giving children exercise. They are more likely to burn the most calories outdoors, helping to prevent future health problems; such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension and arteriosclerosis. Active play outdoors develops a child’s muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility giving them a wide variety of physical skills which will help them in sports in the future.
- Memory Jars – Collect and bring things home, such as twigs, leaves and stones. These can be decorated, or put into a jar as a keepsake, or they could be made into a picture. Keeping them will remind children about their outdoor adventures, as well as helping their awareness of shapes, colours and textures.
- Nature Walk – Enhances the child’s appreciation of the natural environment. Encourage them to touch things around them.
- Obstacle Course – Set up an obstacle course using old tires, large cardboard boxes, rocks and tree stumps.
- Parachute Games – If you have a parachute or an old sheet, you can use it by shaking it, circling with it, making waves with it, or bouncing foam balls on it.
- Dancing – Either put music on your phone or bring a portable music player outside with you. Let your child experience the freedom of dance in a natural environment.
- Water Painting – Get a brush and a bucket of water, get your child to paint the side of a building or fence. This exercise builds up the arms and upper torso area, as well as teaching your child about wet and dry, light and dark, and evaporation.
- Bubbles – Bubbles are a great way to get your child to run and jump as they try and catch the bubbles.
Personal, Social and Emotional
Outdoor play is an ideal time to spend with your child without any interruptions and distractions. When outside, try and switch your phone off or put it away in your bag and enjoy spending quality time with your child as you explore the natural environment together. Being outdoors can also help children to have a better night’s sleep and can change a way children feel. Most often when playing outdoors, your child will meet new people, giving them an opportunity to meet and make friends.
Outdoor play is a great way to encourage your child’s imagination. They can express themselves and learn about the world around them. This helps to develop their autonomy, decision-making, and organisational skills. Although they are playing, they are learning:
- Communication Skills and Vocabulary – Inventing, modifying and enforcing rules.
- Number Relationships – Using numbers to keep score and count.
- Social Customs – Learning to play with other children and cooperate.
- Pretend Play – Imaginative play is a great way to explore the outdoors, and your child can create characters and stories. It is also an ideal way for children to learn how they can cope with their feelings as they act out different emotions, and allows them to think about good and bad experiences and feelings.
- Simon Says – Playing simple instruction games such as ‘Simon Says’ enables your child to develop their cognitive functioning as they follow instructions.
- Cricket or Rounder’s – Ball games teach children how to play with other children and also about rules and taking turns.
Communication and Language
Outdoor play is a great way to develop and encourage language development. Children develop their language skills when they are playing outdoors, it gives them the opportunity to be as loud as they want. Children find their voice when they become more physical and active. Outdoor play helps children to develop confidence in using their voice, and allows children to be messy and experiment in early mark-making and emergent writing.
The outdoor environment provides an excellent source of developing vocabulary, by using the changes of the seasons and weather, as well as the variety of wildlife. Research shows that regular outdoor play supports brain development and understanding skills. It is important that children partake in outdoor play at least once a day.
- Memory Jars – Collect and bring things home, such as twigs, leaves and stones. These can be decorated, or put into a jar as a keepsake, or they could be made into a picture. Keeping them will remind children about their outdoor adventures, you can talk about what they collected, and what they look like.
- Listening Walk – As you walk, point out the sounds of the birds, passing cars, the wind and your footsteps. Ask them what they can identify on their own? Which are loud and quiet sounds? Where are the sounds coming from? What are their favourite sounds?
- Pretend Play – Imaginative play is a great way to explore the outdoors, and your child can create characters and stories.
- Urban Walk – Explore the streets around you. Listen to the sounds around you, and explore the signs and notices.
- Oral Games – Games which give children instructions can help their language and communication skill; such as ‘Follow the Leader’ and ‘Simon Says’. Games such as ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf’ also gives children the chance to use a range of volumes.
- Mark Making – Provide chalk for children to make marks on the grounds or walls in your garden.
- Print Searches – Hide words or letters of the alphabet around the garden, and ask your child to find certain words.
- Cup Phones – Create cup phones using plastic cups and string helps children communicate with each other over long distances, and learning how sound travels. This activity also helps children who are shy, as it allows children to interact with each other without the pressure of speaking to someone face to face.