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Why should children play outside?

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Tags: learning through play, toddlers

Playing outdoors helps language, fitness and behaviour

Did you know that as well as learning about nature, children who play outside develop better language skills, are fitter and have fewer behavioural problems?

Research shows that children use five times as many words when they play outdoors compared to indoors, and that there’s a direct correlation between obesity and lack of time spent outside. There really is nothing like the freedom of playing outdoors to improve children’s physical and sensory development and their imaginations, not to mention the fun factor!

There is strong evidence that children who spend time outside and in close contact with nature are more likely to respect living things and the environment. Whether it’s climbing trees or splashing in puddles, children will not only develop their physical skills but also grow in confidence, learn to assess and take risks and develop their spatial understanding. They will also have opportunities to notice, talk about and learn to respect other living things such as plants, insects and worms; and they will learn to avoid plants and animals that might scratch, bite or sting.

Barriers to playing outside

Factors such as the increase in traffic and parents worrying about stranger danger, however, has meant that fewer children now play outdoors than in any previous generation.

Many children now live in urban areas, or without access to a garden of their own and with all the exciting gadgets and games that kids have to play on indoors now, a small screen and a nice warm sofa can often be a lot more enticing than the great outdoors. After a long and exhausting week at work, dragging your children out for a rainy walk can be the last thing any parent feels like doing!

So what can you do to make getting out and about more enjoyable for both you and the kids, so that they can reap all the benefits of the great outdoors?

Tips for making walks fun

Any parent who’s tried bundling their children up and taking them out for a walk will tell you that it often isn't long before you get a wall of moaning. Suddenly, everyone's tired, needs a carry because their legs are about to drop off, or they are dying of cold/hunger/boredom etc.

The key is to add a bit of focus.

Children love a mission: try spotting plants and animals on your walk. Or you could make a nature collection to add some purpose to your walk. You could even make some artwork with the things you’ve collected when you get home.

Minibeasts are fascinating to children and are a great way for them to learn about nature and lifecycles.

Try going on a bug hunt: carefully lift up logs and rocks to see what’s underneath – take a clear plastic tub and magnifying glass with you so your little one can check out all those tiny legs in mind-bending detail.

If there’s one thing you can guarantee will happen when children play outside, it’s that they’ll definitely get dirty. To be able to relax and really enjoy some outdoors fun, you just need to accept that this is going to happen. Stick some old clothes on them, wrap them up in as many waterproofs as is appropriate and then just get out there and let them get on with it. (Bring a set of spares packed up for emergencies!)

Try leaving food out for the birds – your little one will love watching the birds as they come and eat the food they’ve left out, especially if you make the feeder together.

Slow down

Children love the experience of growing their own food. Lastly, don’t rush. Some of the most special moments with children come at the times when you’re not doing anything planned, and this is even truer when you’re outside. Take the time to dawdle, jump in puddles and notice the signs of the seasons together and you’re guaranteed to build some memories that will last a lifetime.