Here in South Dakota our months of heat and sun are somewhat limited. This year has certainly shown that to be the case so far! We need to make the most of our opportunities for outdoor fun minus snow! There are certainly many reasons that children need access to the outdoors.
- Our children’s love of the outdoors isn’t merely a preference. Research shows that children’s brains develop as they play and the play that they do outdoors holds an exciting role in their development.
- Freedom of movement is something that our children enjoy as they play in wide open spaces outside. They can learn how their bodies move and work as they run, skip, jump and twirl across the soft grass without fear of bumping into a chair, wall or even the floor.
- Our kids thrive when they have opportunities for open ended exploration. When our children can use experience to learn they remember their knowledge. As experiences happen new schemas are created for a child. This sets them up for success as they learn. A non-fiction book about the life cycle of a butterfly is far more memorable after a child has watched a caterpillar become a butterfly.
- Children can develop social skills and compassion as they make connections with living things. Watching an ant crawl on a branch or a duck lead her ducklings across a pond awakens something in us that is precious. We cannot deprive our children of these experiences.
- Most of us find something meaningful in the solitude of the outdoors. The phrase “breath of fresh air” is a hint that as humans we need a moment to breathe the non-filtered, unconditioned air of nature. The smells of rain, dirt or grass all have an impact.
- Our children develop their muscles both small and large as they do what they do best outdoors- play. When they leap, crawl, dig in sand, pick a blade of grass or just run around they are giving their muscles practice.
- Time outside is like one big science lesson. Kids need chances to learn about the world including seasons, animals, plants, physics and more.
- Who doesn’t love a chance to get dirty?
- Give children opportunities to explore the unpredictable. Who can guess what will happen next when worms, birds, wind, plants and bugs are involved?
- Memories are solidified when our 5 senses are engaged. Help your child have happy memories of family time filled with the smells, tastes, textures, sounds and beauty of nature.
An important note is that we play a huge role in making these opportunities successful. Children need supervision to be safe. They need adults help them find answers to their questions to learn. They need love to grow.
By Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education, Lutheran Social Services of SD