Fresh air and young children go together. Most children actually prefer to be outside, and as a favorite child’s poem goes, “Rain, rain go away, come again another day as little Suzy wants to play.” Just ask any person who works with young children in a preschool or childcare setting what part of the day is a young child’s favorite and you will be told “outside playtime”. And, not only is the great outdoors great for play there are many fun and exciting lessons to be learned outside as well.
First and foremost, young children need to be allowed to play outside with no particular purpose in mind. Of their own accord, young children will form friendships and begin to use their imaginations to create all kinds of play scenarios from superheroes to horses to circus animals. Favorite playground equipment including swings, slides, sandboxes, and climbing areas are great favorites and encourage the development of large muscles as well as a sense of self-esteem when a task such as pumping on a swing or climbing a difficult ladder is accomplished.
Adults can add items such as large rubber balls, hula-hoops, tricycles, ride-on toys, jump ropes, colored scarves, bubbles, and a variety of sand toys including trucks, cars, shovels, sieves, large spoons, and various sized containers. For very young children plan to be involved and interact with them as sometimes they need help in areas such as pushing a swing, throwing a ball, building a sand structure, and managing the bubble wands. Letting young children do for themselves is important, but not allowing a child to become too frustrated by not knowing quite how to do a task is important too.
Outside learning: The world around us is an entire classroom, one which is not only filled with wonders but is continually changing from season to season. Young children are observers of nature. The very fact they are so close to the ground makes them ready to learn about flowers, insects, leaves, rocks, and small animals. Make collections, point out similarities and differences in leaves, find the different shapes in nature, listen for sounds of birds and insects, explore textures of surfaces, discuss the colors or flowers and fall leaves, plant a garden, collect rain, feel the wind, and play the game “what shape are the clouds”. And whenever possible take field trips to a farm, zoo, park, or aquarium to further the “hands-on” aspect of learning. (more about this in part four of this series)
Allowing young children to enjoy and learn from the outdoors is essential to a child’s healthy development. While a large, fenced-in yard is ideal it is not a requirement. Even a small outside space can, with some creative innovations, become a world of fun and wonder for a young child. And, should you live in an apartment, find areas near you where you can take your young child to play and learn. Nature walks, observing what is around us, and cloud watching can take place in the inner city as well as suburbia or the country. When all is said and done you will likely enjoy being outdoors as much as your child, and together you can have fun, learn, and explore.