Outdoor play is a big part of healthy growth, learning, development and wellbeing for your child.
We all know it’s important for kids to enjoy some outdoor play when the weather is good, but do we really appreciate all of the different benefits they get from it?
By exploring both the surrounding, natural environment and the sense of space and freedom that outdoor play provides, your child can test their physical limits and run, jump, skip and dance in a way that indoor play doesn’t allow.
It’s not just about exercise and physical fitness – outdoor play is good for the immune system, for fine motor control, and for building their confidence too.
Outdoor Play for Fun
Play should be fun, and when you take your child outside, you open up a whole world of possibilities. Local parks and playgrounds are a good place to start, and even very young children will enjoy watching the older kids play – along with a little carefully supervised play of their own.
Back home, if you have some safe outside space, it’s the perfect opportunity to get messy without having so much to clean up. Water fights are a classic way to play in the sun; they’ll help them to let off some steam, keep cool in the heat, and they’ll soon dry off again on a sunny day!
Try to play:
- Both close to home and further away.
- With new faces (supervised, of course) as well as with family and friends.
- In a safe place where your child can explore alone.
Outdoor Play for Health
Getting outside has lots of potential health benefits, including boosted Vitamin D levels after moderate exposure to the sun.
Breathing the outdoor air is beneficial for the immune system, and should help your child to master any hay fever symptoms and other allergies they might have – these will probably be with them for life, but learning to simply ignore itchy eyes is a useful coping strategy to nurture!
Even falling over is a learning step, so don’t feel like you have failed as a parent if your child comes home with a scraped knee or a bruised elbow; it’s all part of learning safe limits, and will help them to avoid accidents and learn some caution.
Outdoor Play for Learning
From the moment they leave the house, children begin to learn in a different way – their gaze is likely to fix on objects much further away, while their senses are heightened by sights and sounds they have not encountered indoors.
It’s a huge opportunity to discover new things: new people, new animals, new plants; new smells and textures; new games and activities – and all with old and new playmates!
Let your child learn:
- What’s safe and unsafe to touch.
- Things they can climb (and climb back down from!).
- Places it’s safe to explore on their own.
- Why it’s important to stay close and to let you know where they are.
Children learn to invent games using whatever they can find in the environment, or using nothing but their imaginations; to negotiate with other children they may have never met before, to decide on the rules of the game and so on.
Most importantly, children should recognize that outdoor play is a regular event, and not just a one-off; they should not feel like the outdoors is an alien environment, but they must learn that they shouldn’t go running off either.
While introducing your child to the joy of outdoor exploration, you obviously need to ensure that they are also learning about road safety and ‘stranger danger’ – but where possible, also look for more contained environments, where they can immerse themselves in adventures without worrying.
Ideas for Outdoor Play
If you’re stuck for ideas of how to get your child involved in outdoor play, here are a few ways to start:
- As mentioned above, a water fight is a fun way to cool down on a hot day.
- Involve your child in simple garden tasks like watering the plants – treat it as a game and a way to learn garden crafts too.
- Help your child to play on park and playground equipment to teach them about safety.
- Let your child play (under careful supervision) with others, to build their confidence and learn to interact and share.
- Games such as chase, hide-and-seek or throwing and chasing balls.
- Nature trail – from collecting leaves, feathers and other organic materials for art and crafts projects, to exploring rock pools or even bird-spotting, get them involved in the wonder of the natural world around them.
Gather some sand and water toys and provide a sand or mud pit, or a paddling pool or bowl of water (ensure they are always supervised around water) and let them explore the properties of these different mediums. Include rakes, moulds, plastic boats and digger toys.
- If you have some old boxes or tubs, see if they can build a fortress for imaginative play – or provide some pegs and sheets to convert a play house or other outdoor equipment.
- Invest in some sports toys – they don’t have to be expensive, and will ensure hours of outdoor fun, plus the whole family can join in!
We all know that play is one of the best ways to boost children’s health, vitality and education – and the beauty of it is that there’s no limit except for your imagination! You can plan activities or be as spontaneous as you like, and with fantastic online stores like Kiddit offering lots of ideas and inspiration, you can stock up on a variety of outdoor toys and equipment to increase fun levels and learning opportunities for your kids!