Spending time in nature is a critical component of any early learning program. Young children love being outside, getting messy, and exploring the natural environment around them. But, did you know that in addition to having fun, children are actually learning a variety of skills that support learning and development when they play in nature? In this article, we explore the benefits of outdoor play and why it is so important for young children.
How Outdoor Play Supports Learning & Development
When children play outside, they interact with their surroundings in a way that is open-ended and unstructured. Imagination comes into play as children think about new ways to interact with natural objects and materials. An article posted on the Child Mind Institute website explains that outdoor play encourages children to “interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.”
When children play outside, they can interact with their peers in different ways than they do indoors. They can create make-believe games together and support one another as they try new activities such as riding bikes or climbing large play structures. These interactions offer experience in important social development activities such as forming friendships, communicating ideas, and collaborating with peers.
Being in nature encourages children to find ways to care for their environment, by watering plants, picking up trash, feeding birds, and more. These experiences help children develop their ability to nurture and empathize with other living beings, and to take responsibility for shared community spaces.
Being outside allows children to move their bodies by running, jumping, climbing, and exploring – all of which support physical fitness and the development of motor skills. Active, outdoor play imporoves circulation, increases oxygen flow to the brain, and enhances exposure to Vitamin D, which supports health and immunity.
Meghan Fitzgerald, an educator and founder of Tinkergarten, describes another important benefit of outdoor play, “Time spent in natural settings also contributes to healthy sleep patterns in babies, toddlers, and kids. And proper sleep drives all kinds of beneficial health outcomes.”