How outdoor play is the key to happy and healthy children

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Published on 23/09/2021

As the cooler weather rolls in and the leaves start to change colour, now is the perfect time to encourage your kids to explore nature.

Here, Rebecca McCalla, Director of Little Adventure Shop, outlines why outdoor play is so important for your little ones.

Almost everyone remembers playing outside as a kid, investigating under rocks, running through puddles, and climbing trees. Playing outside and exploring nature forms a key part of childhood, and it could provide more than just a way to entertain your kids. 

Spending time outdoors can aid with child development and could be the key to a happy and healthy family. And, as six in ten children have reported spending less time outside during lockdown, according to the government’s 2020 People and Nature Survey for England, it’s more important than ever to encourage your children to get out of the house and back into nature. 

Here, I’ll be looking at how outdoor play can boost your child’s development, and how you can encourage them to make the most of natural space.

Builds confidence

Getting outdoors isn’t just a fun activity for you to do as a whole family. Being in nature provides a great sense of freedom for your children, and offers them a fantastic space to have the freedom to explore new areas and habitats. And, when combined with the fresh air and sunlight, natural play can help boost your child’s wellbeing.

According to a study commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, children who had spent time outdoors felt more confident to try new activities, and said that the experience could help them build stronger relationships with their teachers and classmates. The 2020 People and Nature Survey for England showed similar findings, with eight in ten children agreeing that being in nature made them feel very happy. 

Free-range parenting techniques can also help boost your child’s confidence. This is a type of parenting that allows children to be free to explore their surroundings with minimal rules, encouraging them to form their own ideas about the world and allowing them to learn their own physical limits.
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With a greater sense of independence during play, your children can develop the confidence they need to be more independent in the rest of their lives too.

Boosts fine and gross motor skills

The NHS suggests that children aged 5–18 should get an average of 60 minutes of exercise each day. This includes activities such as walking, running, skipping, and climbing. Unfortunately, with the rise of technology providing children with more opportunities for indoor sedimentary play, many kids aren’t getting the necessary amount of exercise. 

By incorporating just one hour of outdoor play into your child’s routine, you can encourage them to get their recommended daily amount of physical activity. As well as this, the mix of activities that your children can do outdoors, such as climbing, digging, playing with sticks, and looking under stones, can help build their fine and gross motor skills too.

Encouraging your family to get outside can sometimes feel like a challenge, but there are a few ways you can ease them off their devices and out into the great outdoors.

Asking them to give you a helping hand with your everyday outdoor tasks can be a great incentive to get them outside, and can be great for their fine motor skills. For example, you could ask them to give you a little hand with gardening or get them to help you hang clothes on the line. Doing grown-up tasks like these can give your little ones a feeling of importance, and you might find that they even ask if they can help out in the future.

Making being outdoors a fun task can also be a great motivator, so coming up with a few games to play can help your children explore the natural world. Investing in fun outdoor toys can entice your children outside, and even better if they can help with their development too.
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For example, balance bikes can help improve gross motor skills, and mud kitchens not only provide hours of entertainment, but they can also help develop imagination and cognition. 

Encourages sensory development 

As the cooler weather starts to set in, don’t let it stop you from getting outside, as this time of year is one of the best times to get out into nature. The great outdoors can stimulate all the senses, from the smell of damp leaves to the feeling of the wind brushing past your cheeks. And, with so many interesting textures to discover during autumn, engaging in outdoor play can be a great way to boost your child’s sensory development. So, don your wellies and waterproofs and get outside to enjoy all this lovely season has to offer.
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Whether you’re out in your garden or on a family walk through the woods or along your local beach, consider coming up with some fun games that engage a few of the senses. For example, you could make nature-inspired art by collecting shells and seaweed, or leaves, twigs, and seeds, and laying them on the ground to make a picture. Look for different coloured leaves to make a leaf rainbow. Make your own helicopters from sycamore seeds. Or, create mud pies from wet sand or soil.
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Even something as simple as going on a walk and playing a good old-fashioned game of I spy — picking out things you can see, hear, smell, and feel — can encourage your little ones to engage with the world around them. 

Getting outdoors can be hugely beneficial for your whole family. By encouraging your little ones to explore their surroundings, get some exercise, and embrace their creativity, you can help boost their physical and mental wellbeing. So, why not head out on an adventure this autumn and see what kinds of things you can find?


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