Do you have a toddler and you’re facing some challenges on how to engage him for outdoor play? What type of activities do you currently implement in order to build his interests?
In reality, playing outside provides opportunities for young children to experience the world with all of their senses. Experiences through quality outdoor play have a great influence and effect on their brain growth and development and create strong foundations for their future.
But children do not necessarily know and realize this. As adults, we have a role to deliver and part of this responsibility is to provide them with opportunities in order to gain the key benefits of outdoor play.
According to Claire McCarthy, MD, of Harvard Health Publishing:
“There are many ways in which this generation’s childhood is different from that of the last generation, but one of the most abrupt contrasts is the degree to which it is being spent indoors. There are lots of reasons, including the marked increase in time spent interacting with electronic devices, the emphasis on scheduled activities and achievements, concerns about sun exposure — and, for many families, the lack of safe outdoor places to play. It’s not just children; adults are spending less time outdoors as well.”
6 Crucial Ways in which playing outside helps children were noted and that includes Sunshine, Exercise, Executive Function, Taking Risks, Socialization and Appreciation of Nature.
At the end of this post, we hope that this will inspire you to bring your toddlers outside to play. Not only does it benefit them but also to you as an adult.
As we dive deeper, you’ll find 7 proven benefits of outdoor play for your child. This will give you and your toddler an opportunity to stay outdoors and enjoy a breath of fresh air, and it also uplifts you physically, mentally and emotionally.
Read the post with our guest, Alan Williamson, the Chief Education Officer at Kings’ Education of Dubai. Here it is.
Why is it important for young children to play outdoors? How does their development benefit from this? Is it good for their physical health and mental wellbeing?
Good pre-schools and nurseries put a lot of emphasis on outdoor play provision and encourage their children to play outdoors a lot.
Why is this so? All these questions are answered here as we explain seven of the most crucial benefits of outdoor play for toddlers.
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1. Children get fitter and stronger.
Outside space and fresh air inspire children to move. Without four walls and a ceiling, children are compelled to move. Running, jumping, hopping, skipping is compulsive. And all this movement is so good for little bodies.
So much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) published the following guidelines for parents in April 2019:
“Children ages 1 to 2 should… spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.”
What are the Main Health Benefits of Exercise for toddlers?
● To increase muscle strength
● To promote good heart and lung health
● To help strengthen bones
● To maintain a healthy body weight
● To aid normal physical development
Plenty of exercise needs to be part of every toddler’s daily routine. It is typically much easier to do so outdoors.
2. It is important for their development.
A toddler playing outside will be working on the next stage of their gross motor skills development without hesitation. Gross motor skills are those movements that involve the largest muscles. For example, throwing, pushing and pulling with the arms, running and jumping with the legs, and whole-body movements too, like star-jumps.
Gross motor skills involve both strong muscles and good coordination with the neurological system. They are a vital part of a toddler’s development, who will be moving from the “just walking” stage to the point where the movements listed above will be reasonably coordinated.
This takes a lot of practice. So, the more time your toddler can spend outdoors, throwing a ball, pushing and pulling toys around, jumping, running, climbing, and balancing, the better.
This is so vital for the proper development of gross motor skills. It’s worth noting, too, that fine motor skills — the ability to make small movements with the hands, such as pencil control — follow on from good gross motor skills.
3. It boosts creativity and imagination
Having bigger spaces to play outside is good for other areas of your toddler’s development, too.
Outdoor play is typically unstructured. Indoors, they might be playing with a toy that has a fairly limited range of play options.
However, to play outdoors in a larger space, children often need to be more creative and inventive. For example, take your child to the park, and they may use sticks or pebbles to play shops, they may decide a climbing frame is a fort or castle, or they may decide you’re a big scary monster that they have to run away from, giggling and squealing.
It doesn’t really matter what they want to do; the point is that you have given them a valuable opportunity to work on their imaginative and creative abilities.
4. Children learn about nature
There is no better place to learn about nature than when surrounded by it. Small children are naturally fascinated by minibeasts, butterflies and colorful birds.
They love spotting shapes in clouds, running through the blades grass, or feeling the sand beneath their toes. We need to nurture this early connection with nature. Our toddlers are future guardians of the planet.
It’s important that they grow up loving and appreciating the natural world. Moreover, this allows them to disconnect from whatever electronic gadgets they are being allowed to use at home.
5. Children get a vitamin boost
Exercise is not the only way our bodies get a boost from playing outdoors. A regular dose of sunshine is vital for receiving adequate amounts of vitamin D. In fact, vitamin D is not consumed through diet but through the skin’s exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D is crucial to the human body. It is needed for good bone health and growth, so it is particularly important for rapidly growing and developing toddlers. It is also needed for a properly functioning immune system.
So, spending time outdoors is important for your toddler’s health. You should, of course, follow recommendations from health experts on the use of sunscreen for the time of year.
6. Outdoor play boosts mood
There is clear evidence that spending time outdoors is good for one’s mood. Researchers from the American Medical Association (AMA) assert that “Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the outdoors.”
Toddlers are happy outdoors because outdoor play is fun and sociable. Giving children space to run and move freely is good for stress relief, too.
7. It’s good for their eyesight
One surprising benefit of outdoor play is that it can help protect a child’s eyesight.
Numerous studies have found that children who regularly play outdoors are less likely to develop myopia (near-sightedness) or for the progression of myopia to be slower.
One example is a study where two groups of young Taiwanese children were monitored for the progression of myopia. This research was published in August 2018 in the Journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
One group of children spent considerably more time outdoors than the other. “[The group of] students who spent at least 200 minutes per week outside during school hours were found to have a significantly less myopic shift.”
Many experts believe that the environment has more significance than genetics when it comes to the chances of a child developing myopia. Another reason to ensure your toddler gets plenty of outdoor playtimes.
Encourage your kids to play outside. These seven scientifically-proven benefits clearly show that outdoor play is something that all toddlers should be doing as often as possible, preferably every day.
One way of ensuring this happens is by enrolling your child in a good toddler nursery where an outdoor play will be very much part of their routine.
Your child can gain from all the potential benefits to their physical health, mental health, and total development that plenty of outdoor play provides.
If you missed our post “15 Weekend Activities to do with a baby”, feel free to check it out for more ideas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alan Williamson is the Chief Education Officer at Kings’ Education, a premium school brand in Dubai which leads a fantastic group of premium UK curriculum schools, including Child’s Play Nursery.
As well as being passionate about teaching and learning, Alan has been actively involved in school leadership related to Special Educational Needs.