The Importance of Outdoor Play
The outdoors is the very best place for preschoolers to practice and master emerging physical skills. It is in the outdoors that children can fully and freely experience motor skills like running, leaping, and jumping. And children can perform other manipulative skills as pushing a swing, pulling a wagon, making simple objects from found materials, and lifting and carrying movable objects.
Additionally, it is in the outdoors that children are likely to burn the most calories, which helps prevent obesity, a heart disease risk factor that has doubled in the past decade. With studies showing that as many as half of UK children are not getting enough exercise– and that risk factors like hypertension and arteriosclerosis are beginning to be an issue in children as young as 5– parents and teachers need to give serious consideration to ways they can encourage even very young children to be and enjoy being more active. Being outside is also important because the outdoor light stimulates the pineal gland, the part of the brain that regulates the “biological clock,” is vital to the immune system, and just makes us feel happier.
Outdoor Play Contributes to Learning
Outdoor play has more to offer than just physical benefits however. Cognitive and social/emotional development are improved too. Outside, children are more likely to invent games. As they do, they’re able to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. They feel safe and in control, which promotes autonomy, decision-making, and organizational skills. Inventing rules for games (as preschoolers like to do) promotes an understanding of why rules are necessary. Although the children are only playing to have fun, they’re learning
- communication skills and vocabulary (as they invent, modify, and enforce rules).
- number relationships (as they keep score and count)
- social customs (as they learn to play together and cooperate).
Learning to Appreciate the Outdoors
We can’t underestimate the value of the aesthetic development promoted by being outside. Aesthetic awareness refers to a heightened sensitivity to the beauty around us. Because the natural world is filled with beautiful sights, sounds, and textures, it’s the perfect resource for the development of aesthetics in young children.
Preschoolers learn much through their senses. Outside there are many different and wonderful things for them to see (animals, birds, and green leafy plants), to hear (the wind rustling through the leaves, a robin’s song), to smell fragrant flowers and the rain-soaked ground, to touch (a fuzzy caterpillar or the bark of a tree), and even to taste (newly fallen snow or a raindrop on the tongue). Children who spend a lot of time acquiring their experiences through television and computers are using only two senses (hearing and sight), which can seriously affect their perceptual abilities.
Finally, what better place than the outdoors for children to be loud and messy and boisterous? Outside they can run and jump and yell, and expend some of the energy that can be inappropriate – and even annoying – indoors