With all the great new entertainment options available nowadays, it may be quite easy to forget the joy that can be had by a child outside. Think back, I know when I was growing up, the majority of my free time was spent outside.
One of my fondest memories is of a specific day that my sisters and I got hold of a ball of wool and got creative out in the garden! We had a huge litchi tree in the garden and it became the base for a giant spider’s web that we built with the wool. So much fun, although I’m pretty sure our parents weren’t too impressed!
Why should my child play outdoors?
The outdoors is the very best place for your little one to practice and master their emerging physical skills, like running, leaping, and jumping. Swings and slides offer extra opportunity to practice skills like balance and depth perception, and it’s hard to argue with the statement that outside is the safest area for the practice of ball-handling skills, like throwing, catching, and bouncing. I don’t know about your house, but if you tried to do that inside ours, somebody would probably end up in tears… (most likely me ;)…)
Additionally, outdoors is also where children are most likely to burn up the most energy. Burning calories not only helps in the fight against childhood obesity, preventing heart disease (a risk factor that has doubled in the past decade), it also ensures that your little one is sufficiently tired at bedtime, helping children develop a healthy sleep pattern. Another great reason to get your child outdoors for a while is the fact that outdoor light stimulates the pineal gland, the part of the brain that regulates the ‘biological clock’, is vital to the immune system, and makes us feel happier.
The outdoors has more to offer than just physical benefits though. Cognitive and social/emotional development are positively impacted, too. While outside, children are more likely to get involved in fantasy play (the benefits of which I have spoken about in my post on the importance of play), allowing them to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. Children often feel safe and in control while in an outdoors environment, and this promotes autonomy, decision-making, and organizational skills, while inventing rules for these games can help a child begin to understand the concept of rules as a necessary part of life. A child that part takes in this kind of free play will often end up being a strong, self-confident little person, better prepared for situations that may arise at school or in the home… Although the children are only playing to have fun, they’re learning.
And although your little one’s main aim while playing is to have fun, they’re also learning many valuable lessons, such as
- communication skills and vocabulary (by inventing, modifying, and enforcing rules)
- number relationships (keeping score and counting)
- social customs (learning to play together and cooperate with each other)
As a mom, I know that it’s not always possible to get outside for a few hours; the life of a parent is a very busy one… The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that by giving your little ones as many opportunities as possible to feel the sun on their backs and the wind in their faces, you are giving them something that they will be able to cherish for a long time to come, memories! Water fights in the backyard, swinging so high it feels like they’re flying, and even falling down and skinning a knee, all these are experiences a child deserves to have. So go on, why not grab a book and an old blanket, make yourself comfortable on the grass and see for yourself. The joy in their little eyes and the tinkle in that laugh, magical!