Outdoor play can be extremely valuable to children’s development. It has many proven benefits including helping to develop children’s coordination and balance, whilst building confidence and reducing stress levels.
Children are no longer used to walking on uneven surfaces and are more used to the paved walkways of our towns and cities, resulting in a reduction in their motor control skills. Increased levels of obesity have been well documented in the press, and playing outdoors boosts children’s fitness and improves their all-round health and wellbeing.
It should be a pastime that is easy and relaxing for both children and adults and should not be a daunting prospect. Spending time outdoors can help build relationships between both parties – sharing experiences away from the stresses of the home and everyday life.
1. Expect children to get messy and provide suitable outdoor clothes - Allowing a child to explore their natural environment without the fear of ‘getting all muddy’ will ensure they get the most out of nature. It will build their confidence and allow them to use their imaginations and resourcefulness to find creative games and practical activities that might result in them getting a little dirty. Having waterproof playsuits is a fantastic way to ensure children keep warm and their clothes stay dry. Mama Cocoon’s range of Togz and Spotty Otter playwear offers waterproof, warm clothing and wellies that take the worry out of outdoor play.
2. Encourage children to use their own senses - Children should be allowed to explore their senses and being outside is the best place for them to see, touch, hear and smell a wide variety of things. Picking a quiet place can encourage them to listen and appreciate elements of nature that may go unnoticed otherwise. Remind them to look up as well as down – clouds can be a great way to spark children’s imaginations too!
3. Take things with you to encourage exploration - Taking a rucksack on trips can provide children with lots of tools to keep them interested in the outdoors. A magnifying glass, mirror, pad and pencil can provide plenty of entertainment and allow children to explore the area around them more fully. Setting tasks can also make their time outside more enjoyable. Treasure hunts encourage movement and exploration and asking them to find (for example) ‘anything orange’ or ‘anything shiny’ helps them to be more aware of their surroundings and look more closely.
4. Try to visit a place in all seasons - Going back to the same spot over and over will allow children to see the seasonal changes that occur. Making a scrap book to record the changes (collecting leaves, petals, taking photographs) enables children to record their observations and gives them a project they can take ownership of. The experience does not have to start and stop at a specific point and travelling to and from an area can also become part of the experience. Walking to a wood, field or park allows you to talk to your child about what they have seen or what they expect to see. This not only aids their development, but also helps build relationships between you both. A bus or train journey can work in much the same way.
5. Try to let the children lead the play - Play time can be much more beneficial to children if they are allowed to lead the play themselves. It enables them to make their own judgements about risk by learning about their physical limitations and boundaries. Giving children guidance, without dominating, will help them find their own level of ability and build their confidence. As well as all the other benefits of playing outdoors, it will teach young people to respect nature. They will grow to have a better understanding of their natural world and can be taught how to treat it in the right way by taking care where needed, not dropping litter and minimising their impact on the environment.
There is no excuse not to make the most of being outside. As Oscar Wilde put it, “there is no such things as bad weather, just bad clothing”, so arm your child with an out
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