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Take it Outside: The benefits of outdoor play

From watching Netflix to playing on phones or iPads, children are spending more time indoors, and studies have shown this can have a negative impact on health and development. The benefits of outdoor play are endless and this is also true in a Childcare or Kindergarten setting. Here are just six of the many benefits of outdoor play!

Health and Physical Development

Having more space to play typically leads to children being more active. Studies have shown that children burn more calories when playing outdoors, which helps to prevent obesity and builds strong bones and muscles. 

Physical skills are important for growth, movement and coordination, and there is no better place than outside for running, jumping, throwing, catching, and balancing.  All these actions improve gross motor development. 

An added bonus is that their exposure to sunshine (with UV protection) means children naturally get their intake of Vitamin D, which leads to stronger bones, better sleep regulation and less risk of chronic diseases.

Social Skills Development

Outdoor play provides children with the opportunity to develop their social skills by interacting and cooperating with other children. This unstructured play helps children learn to share, take turns, and develop positive social and behavioural skills.

Outdoor play spaces are typically less crowded than indoors, and are therefore less intimidating. This may mean children are more comfortable talking to different people, joining in games and making new friends. 

At bestchance Family Day Care, bush playgroups are a key part of many Educator’s programs. These playgroups and excursions are organised with other Family Day Care groups in the area. The Doongalla picnic grounds are regularly visited by several bestchance Family Day Care Educators, children and support staff, to engage in natural play and exploration. The children are able to interact with each other in a larger group than normal and build familiarity with other Educators, creating a safer community. Together, these groups explore local parks and other attractions and discuss what they have seen.

Independence and Exploration

More space means that children are more likely to learn independence; both when playing with other children and learning to play by themselves. Outdoor play equipment may have a little more risk than indoor toys, but there are many benefits to this too. Children can develop risk assessment skills and push their boundaries, all of which is important learning. When exploring new areas and trying new things, children become more confident in themselves and feel secure enough to try other new things without guidance. With practice, children develop the confidence and skills they need to assess and manage risks and challenges on their own.

Outdoor play is also a great way to encourage creativity. Outside, children’s imaginations are stimulated by the objects and natural environment around them. A leaf or a rock can be anything if you use your imagination!

Cultural Learning

The land we live and play on can help children develop an understanding of different cultures. Mainview Boulevard Kindergarten recently participated in a Walk on Country. They had a visit from Justin, who shared his knowledge of Indigenous culture. Justin taught the children about the benefits of the Eucalyptus tree, known as a medicine tree.

Family Day Care Educator Maiko also shares her Japanese culture through outdoor learning. As a part of her Sustainability and Nature program she decided to make a rice paddock in her backyard. It was a long and carefully planned process. Maiko spent months prepping soil for growing. The children were involved in this exciting process of planting and caring for the rice. Rice takes roughly five months to reach the right level and the children monitored its progress regularly. The children helped to harvest the rice when it was ready and bunched them together for drying. 

Mood and Appreciation for Nature

Spending time in nature is associated with improved mood and happiness. Fresh air is also a great way to reduce stress levels. As mentioned, children naturally get Vitamin D when they are outside, which studies show, helps to improve mood and facilitates better sleep.

But what about when it’s not sunny?

Many of our family day are educators and kindergartens encourage playing outside in different weather conditions. Children learn about the weather, the change in seasons, and how to keep safe in different conditions.  Another benefit of outdoor play in early childhood is that children who identify with nature at early ages are more likely to become adults who appreciate nature and want to protect the environment.

Improving sensory skills and learning

Playing outside helps children to develop their learning abilities. Infants and preschool aged children, in particular, learn new things through their senses. At Sonia’s Family Day Care, outdoor play is a big part of the program and helps the children to learn through all their senses. During a recent day of outdoor play, the children picked up leaves and compared the sizes, lengths and colours (sight) and learnt that the really long leaves come from the big mountain grey gums. The children dug in the veggie patch, turning the soil and found lots of worms (touch), they learnt that healthy soil has lots worms (their soil must be very healthy!!).

At Sonia’s Family Day Care, the children have been planting potatoes and onions. A week ago, they discovered that their hard work was paying off, with some veggies starting to poke through the soil and the onions doubled in length. When they started to feel big drops of rain fall on them they stayed out in the rain and danced together. This sort of outdoor sensory play can help children feel more connected with their environment.

So let’s get out there and experience the great outdoors. When planning activities for your child, try to let them take the lead with their imagination and play. Make sure to dress for the environment including sun protection or warm clothes if it is cold. Most importantly go have some fun and let your child explore, learn and play!

Doongalla bush playgroup

Maiko's Rice Paddock

Sonia's Veggie Patch

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