Importance of outdoor play for children

Today’s contributing article is by Keren’s Nursery. The nursery is based in Holland Park and is one of three Ofsted OUTSTANDING nurseries, owned and directed with passion by husband and wife team, Keren & Assaf Ben-Ezra. They share with us some interesting facts on the importance of outdoor play for children. You can read more about the nursery here.

Most of us have wonderful memories of childhood, recalling the hours we spent outdoors with our friends.  Children today are surrounded by technology and it is our challenge as parents and educators to provide children with exciting opportunities to explore the great outdoors and disengage from technology.

Playing outdoors, specifically for young children, helps develop physical abilities which are hard to achieve indoors. There are also benefits of developing spatial awareness, social skills, creativity, imagination and problem solving.

“There is plenty of well-documented research about the benefits of play and learning outdoors for young children, including their physical development, which is an area of current concern for public health in the UK,” Juno Hollyhock, chief executive of Learning through Landscapes.

Indeed it has been suggested that Government and Ofsted should work to amend the legal requirements of nurseries so that clear guidelines are in place to insure that nurseries provide adequate outdoor spaces for children.

Young children should have access to outdoor play areas on a daily basis regardless of the weather, as children have many learning opportunities playing also in rain, snow and mud, provided they are well dressed and appropriate risk assessments have been done. Being outdoors allows children to breathe fresh air and be exposed to smells, views and textures that are not always available in their indoor classroom.

The outdoor experience provides big-scale play opportunities which extend the possibilities of physical activities. It provides for calculated risk taking in climbing trees, climbing frames, going down the slide or hanging on monkey ropes. Children’s use of language is five times greater than in the classroom which in turn makes it vital for development of language and social skills.

The recognition of the outdoors as an extension of the classroom has recently been extended further by the advent of the ‘Forest Schools’ philosophy. It is an innovative, educational approach to outdoor play and learning which aims to encourage and inspire children through positive outdoor experiences. Keren’s Nursery has a qualified Forest School practitioner and we provide activities for children to participate in engaging, motivating and achievable tasks and activities in an outdoor environment. Each child is given the opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation, sound emotional and social skills which supports children to achieve their full potential.

The provision of outdoor play areas in a nursery environment has also been linked to reduction in bacteria and virus spread and infections between children. The closed classrooms, especially during the winter time, can be a breeding ground for children catching illnesses from each other. The provision of the outdoor provides children with an ample supply of fresh air and exercise and be less constrained, allowing the infectious agents to spread out and be dissipated.

Our children’s experience of exploring nature, running, rolling, climbing and swinging is greatly reduced compared to that of children 40 years ago.  As outdoor play is part of being a child, we, as parents and educators, must find a variety of ways to provide those experiences for our children. As parents, we do not need to provide the same level of complex and challenging outdoor activities that exist in nurseries. We can provide ample opportunities for fresh air, discovery and learning by disconnecting our children from technology and by taking a walk to a local park or farm. Think back to your childhood and recall one memory – if this was outside then this is the power of being outdoors. Let us give our children the same gift.