The sun has finally got his hat on and spring is in the air at last! Although we do our best to get our little ones outside throughout the winter, when the sun shines it feels a little easier. Outdoor play hit the headlines last summer, with a report published warning us that children do not go outdoors as much as they used to and that outdoor experiences actually boost learning.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? You probably remember when you were younger having more freedom, fewer or no opportunities to play on ipads, tablets, phones and gaming devices, and lots of time to play outside.
Playing outside is fun and children can learn lots, too. I was told of a city toddler, who, growing up in London had not seen an apple tree before, let alone an orchard. His mum took him to visit an orchard and he saw apples growing on a tree for the first time. He remarked, “Mummy, why did someone stick all those apples in the trees?”
We may smile at this naivety, however, a recent report from the National Trust found that one in three children could not identify a magpie; half could not tell the difference between a bee and a wasp; yet nine out of ten could recognise a Dalek!
Here are a few ideas of how you might want to encourage your children to go outside, play and learn this spring:
- Take advantage of the benefits of being outdoors – play can be bigger, noisier and linked to the natural environment
- Take all areas of learning and development outside e.g play games involving maths (number hunt in the garden, counting petals on flowers, finding shapes in the natural environment etc.)
- Grow fruit and vegetables to promote healthy eating, as well as demonstrate how plants grow and where our food comes from
- Teach children about looking after their world – environmental citizenship, through recycling projects, sourcing sustainable resources and sharing with them information about the natural world
- Go on a mini-beast hunt!
- Be a role model – go outdoors with your children in all weathers; invest in some good quality waterproofs and wellies for you and the children
- Practice what you preach – so during ‘Run to Rio’ events or ‘Golden Boot Challenges’ at school or nursery, do the 5K jog or walk to work!
- Get parents and grandparents involved in the setting by organising a camp-out, getting children much closer to nature!
- Create a mud kitchen in your garden or outside area
- Even the smallest yard is home for many birds and animals, so create a bug hotel or hang a bird feeder on the fence
- Ensure that outdoor learning is always an option during free-flow play
- Plan themes and topics that naturally encourage more outdoor learning – e.g. mini-beasts, weather, growing, lifecycles etc.
- Get involved with Forest School Education or Eco-Schools and Nurseries
- Browse the catalogues for ideas or invest, if you can, in some lovely resources to support you (cosy and muddy faces)
- Become a RSPB wildlife explorer and give nature a home
It’s so important for us to buck the trend of being sedentary and engage in more outdoor play. We can also offer parents and carers some ideas of how to get their children more active in simple and free ways:
- Go on scavenger hunts
- Try the ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ challenge
- Visit our lovely beaches, forests and National Parks
- Go on wildlife hunts in the garden, play area or city park
- Share ideas for parents from Learning through Landscapes
So get your hat on, and whatever you do this spring – go outside!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.