The Importance of Outdoor Play for Kids

My son in 19 months old, he was born on a FREEZING cold night at the old hospital in GP, right before they moved (yes, I am sad I didn’t get the shiny new maternity ward.). He has always loved being outside, as have I, but it wasn’t until he came into the world that I actually realized how little of my own time I spend outdoors. In the first few months of being a parent it was tough, the weather was less than ideal for a new baby, but come spring the cold broke and warmth was once again in the air. There’s something so soothing about being outside, even just on your deck, wrapped in a blanket. My son could be in the middle of a terrible moment, unable to communicate, and we were deeply frustrated with one another, but there were two things that were ALWAYS able to calm him down, water and fresh air. We spent many mornings wrapped in a blanket just rocking in the swing, and many afternoons napping in the shade. Which is why it pains me to hear about how fewer and fewer children are going outside, getting messy, and learning through play.

Outdoor play is an important part of childhood. It’s exciting to see children in their natural environment – exploring their surroundings, being curious about what’s around them, and finding joy in seeing new things. Studies have shown that children can learn a lot from playing outdoors – from improved spatial recognition to simply understanding environmental tendencies. Simple activities such as seeing leaves change, running and jumping in rain puddles, or watching the flowers sprout during the spring, can make huge difference in their little worlds. It’s natural to worry that your child could get hurt when playing outside, and sometimes your child might be worried about trying something new. These are natural worries, but they shouldn’t keep your child from playing outside. It’s OK for your child to push the play boundaries outside, it might mean some tears, a scrape or a fall, but this kind of risk taking in play is lauded by experts in child development, it helps your child learn from mistakes and bounce back.

This is one of the reasons I love the work that I do, giving all kids the chance to explore the watery worlds right next door. I get to facilitate opportunities for kids to get messy in the bog trying to catch dragonfly nymph’s, to see science in action as we measure water quality, to play as we imagine were pollywogs in a bog trying to find our next snack. If we want our children to understand that its okay to be outside we have to guide them as parents, as teachers, and educators of all sorts. Don’t be afraid to let them get messy, and if you ever want help with a rowdy group of kids that just need some time to explore a wetland, that’s just one of the many things we can help with.