The Great Outdoors Holds Great Opportunity for Your Child

Photo source: The Learning Child

As a child, I remember running around barefoot with my siblings,exploring woods, climbing trees, and building forts. Oh, the memories. I had scrapes, bruises, and even stitches at times, but they were worth it.In addition to the great memories made, did you know there are endless benefits of simply letting your child run outside and play? The next time you’re deciding whether to let your child play inside or outside, you might want to consider all the opportunities that come with the great outdoors.

Increased Physical Activity

Although it seems as if your child has endless energy, letting them play outside can help release some bottled up energy. Everything from walking, running, and jumping around, to climbing trees and carrying building supplies for forts, contributes to the development of strength, balance, and coordination. According to the Stateofobesity.org, Nebraska ranks 5th with a 2-4-year-old obesity rate of 16.9%. Yikes! Just think how our rates might decrease if children spent more time outside.

Development of Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills

Developing these skills directly affects the creation of strong, healthy, capable children. Gross motor skills help your child run, walk, and climb. Fine motor skills are used when they pick up sticks or make a nature bracelet with all of their outdoor treasures. Development of these skills requires lots of practice,and outdoor adventures offer just that.

Social Interaction

No matter if your child is playing with siblings, friends, or you, they are gaining social interaction. Being outside with limited toys can push children to expand their imaginations. When combining different imaginations, new ideas and brainstorming skills are created. Teamwork is also strenghtened. Whether they are ‘playing house’ or building something, your child will be working together with others, and learning teamwork young could benefit your child in their future endeavors.

Use of Imagination

I just mentioned that when your child is outside, it can force them to use their imaginations. Children need to experience boredom at times in order to create new levels of play. Once they do, they can see objects in new ways, such as using mud to make cake or pretending a stick is a mixing spoon. Also, when your child has free time, they have time to daydream, and that can lead to some of their most creative ideas.

It is the beginning of summer and that means it’s the perfect time for your child to go enjoy all of the benefits that the great outdoors offers!

LaDonna Werth, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Exploring Nature With Children

Child in nature on grass

Although children should have outdoor time every day, research suggests that on average, American children are only spending 30 minutes of unstructured time outdoors each week. Spending time outdoors is said to lower stress levels, reduce ADHD/ADD symptoms, encourage the opportunity for physical exercise, increase academic performance and levels of concentration, reduce myopia, help children get enough Vitamin D and builds strong immune systems (not to mention a develop a sense of wonder). A good way to plan outdoor space is to identify permanent spaces and temporary spaces.

Exploring Nature in Permanent Spaces

  • What permanent outdoor structures exist in your yard? Do you have a variety of natural elements such as: grass, trees, shrubs, and plants?
  • Offer areas where children can build with nature’s treasures, such as sticks, rocks, leaves, pinecones, and snow.
  • A quiet sitting area such as grass, stumps, large rocks, or a bench is a good place to slow down, relax, read a story, or have a heart-to-heart talk.
  • Don’t forget to create areas for nature and weather observation with a good view of the sky for weather watching.
  • Offer tools such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, paper towel rolls for telescopes, hand shovels, various containers for collections, and bird feeders.
  • For observing the weather, offer materials such as a rain gauge, measuring cups, wind chimes, or streamers (to see which way the wind is blowing), homemade sun dials, and thermometers.
  • Consider having journals, paper, and pencils for kids to record ideas and possibly stumps, decks, or climbers to allow for higher views of observing.

Exploring Nature in Temporary Spaces

  • Create a garden area. Add planter pots with easy-to-grow seeds, plants, shrubs, and vegetables that are safe for young children. If you have the space and time, creating a vegetable garden with children is a great opportunity for them to learn about plants.
  • Provide children with opportunities to care for nature, such as watering plants, feeding animals, picking up trash, and treating “creatures” gently, supports a sense of respecting nature and developing empathy. Experiences such as these help build lifelong skills and give children a connection that may in the future support caring for their environment.
  • For water play, use plastic bins, buckets, funnels, plastic piping, hoses, plastic gutters, spray bottles, paint brushes, sponges, etc. Store all of the water play items inchildren-763791_960_720.jpg a large plastic bin with a lid. Instead of using wading pools which can spread germs, try sprinklers and individual water play containers. Remember, whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be no more than an arm’s length away so they are close enough to provide touch supervision.
  • Children love interesting nooks. You can create fun spaces from tarps or blankets draped over areas, large cardboard boxes, or the undergrowth of a pine tree.
  • Playing in the mud is a great outdoor activity kids love. Set up an area where children, with supervision, can dig in the dirt and add water to make mud. This space should be close to clean-up supplies and away from busy play. Give children clear rules before mud play, such as where the mud may be taken and what toys may be used.
  • Don’t forget to offer an art area! Bring an easel and paints outdoors or set up water colors on a table or sidewalk. Providing a box of art materials give kids an opportunity to express themselves and use nature for collages and sketches.

You can also make outdoor chores fun! Have your children join you in washing the car, cleaning out the garage, feeding the pets, getting the mail, hanging clothes on the line, working in the garden, or any task that calls for them to be involved in the great outdoors.

If you would like to learn more about children and nature, visit the Environmental Education section of UNL Extension’s Learning Child website.

Author:  Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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