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Developmental Benefits of Outdoor Play

Spring has finally sprung! At long last, we can shed the snow gear and enjoy more favorable weather outdoors. Spring is a wonderful time to further connect the children to nature and the outside world. Young children are so observant and fascinated by the outdoor environment.

Outdoor play is an essential—but often overlooked—component of development and learning! Playing outside contributes to physical development and health as children practice and refine important gross motor skills like running, climbing, and jumping. A walk through the woods helps children with balance and equilibrium as they navigate uneven terrain. The outdoor world stimulates the senses—the sound of birds chirping, the smell of fresh cut grass, the feeling of mud between the toes, the taste of a raindrop on the tongue—and helps children develop awareness of their surroundings

During unstructured outdoor play, children frequently use their imaginations and role play, thereby gaining a sense of autonomy. On the playground, I love watching the children collaborate to invent spontaneous group games and activities. When doing so, they engage in compromise, perspective taking, and conflict resolution—all of which are important elements of social-emotional development. For more information on the value (and necessity!) of outdoor play, I highly recommend Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom.

Below are several toddler-friendly activities for the outdoors:

  • Taking a nature walk

  • Taking a “listening” walk

  • Filling a birdfeeder

  • Planting flowers and plants

  • Watering the garden/outdoor plants

  • Weeding

  • Sweeping the patio/driveway/sidewalk, etc.

  • Washing the car

  • “Water” painting the sides of the house or driveway with paint brushes and a bucket of water

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