What comes to mind when you think of playing outdoors? Do you remember the joy and excitement you felt while exploring the playground at recess? Do you fondly recall the times you spent meeting new friends and bonding with family? Outdoor play promotes cherished memories like these, and it’s also essential for proper child development.
We believe outdoor play and nature are critical for every aspect of child development. Playing outside helps young kids stay active, release emotions and pent-up energy, develop balance and fine motor skills, boost cognitive and social skills and so much more.
How can you promote outdoor play in early years? Read on to discover the importance of outdoor play for kids, how to get kids to play outside and some excellent activities they can enjoy.
The Importance of Outdoor Play in Early Childhood
Outdoor play is invaluable for growing kids. It lets them hone essential developmental and creative skills. Outdoor play helps keep kids healthy and allows them to learn and interact with others. Below are some benefits of outdoor play for early child development.
1. Promotes Physical Health
The obesity rate among all age groups continues to grow, making outdoor play even more crucial. Doctors recommend outdoor play from birth because an early start helps kids build healthy habits. For instance, toddlers should have at least an hour of play each day to reduce the risk of obesity and other health-related issues.
Outdoor activities combining strength training and aerobic activity burn calories, helping to prevent obesity. In turn, this may reduce the risk of developing health conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.
As they play, kids develop motor skills and physical coordination. They get valuable exercise for their growing bodies. Playing outside can even help kids sleep better at night, which is crucial for child development.
Some other potential physical health benefits include:
- Increased vitamin D levels from sunlight exposure
- Stronger immune system, bones and muscles
- Improved sensory skills
2. Provides New Learning Opportunities
Young kids soak up every detail of the world around them. By exploring new things and pushing their boundaries, kids can learn about their surroundings. Outdoor spaces provide the perfect opportunity for new learning experiences.
Something as simple as walking to the park can expose young kids to discoveries and open doors to curiosity. While book learning is a good start, showing young kids nature and how the world works gives them a better understanding of their surroundings.
3. Builds a Foundation for Social Interaction
Outdoor play is a perfect opportunity for kids to socialize with others in an unstructured setting. They’ll learn how to cooperate, take turns, share, follow the rules of a game and build friendships with peers and relationships with adults.
Whether they play outside with kids from daycare or new friends from a community playground, socializing at a young age teaches kids valuable skills for the future. Through unstructured play and creating games and rules, they can develop the following social skills and others:
- Communicating, negotiating and compromising
- The importance of following rules
- Getting along with others
- Working in groups with people of different abilities and backgrounds
- Problem-solving and conflict resolution
- Challenging themselves
- Building resilience and self-confidence
Children can learn valuable, lifelong social skills through observation and interaction with others.
4. Strengthens Mental Health
Stress, anxiety and depression don’t only affect adults — kids can also struggle with mental health. Getting outside can offer various mental health benefits for kids, such as:
- Higher attention span
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Lessened impact of conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Playing outdoors can provide a healthy outlet for kids to expend energy, helping relieve anxiety and stress. As a result, they can experience better concentration and overall mental health.
5. Builds Appreciation for the Outdoors
Kids can develop a long-term appreciation of nature and conservation by consistently playing outdoors. Research shows kids with a strong connection to nature are likelier to engage in eco-friendly behavior like water conservation, recycling and turning off lights.
Throwing away trash at a park can open their eyes to the responsibility of protecting nature, which they can carry into adulthood.
6. Increases Intellectual and Academic Performance
Outdoor play can stimulate kids intellectually, potentially enhancing their academic preparation and performance. Playing outside can provide the following intellectual benefits:
- Easier transition into school
- Problem-solving skills
- Number skills like counting and keeping score during games
- Creativity and experimentation
- Focus and concentration
Outdoor play can help kids learn better in class by improving critical thinking and creativity. By viewing learning materials from different perspectives, they can better process and absorb new concepts.
Tips to Get Young Children Excited About Playing Outdoors
Before young ones can enjoy those fantastic benefits, you’ll need to get them excited to go outside. Follow these eight tips on encouraging a child to play outside, and you’ll soon be on your way to exciting outdoor adventures with your toddlers and young children.
1. Be Upbeat and Enthusiastic
You don’t have to be a fitness guru or outdoor lover to interest young children in outdoor play — but you do need to show a bit of spirit. If you seem enthusiastic about outdoor activities, your mood will rub off and make little ones more excited to be outside, too.
Lead by example and channel your inner child during playtime, delighting kids with a sense of excitement and wonder. Point out everything as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it, and don’t be afraid to add some extra pep to your voice as you lead outdoor activities.
2. Plan Activities That Guarantee Action
Toddlers love to move, so a sedentary activity with little action likely won’t hold their interest for too long. Luckily, plenty of activities like flying kites or playing on a playground allow kids to get moving while enjoying the outdoors.
You can even transform a simple yard or sports field into a magical outdoor adventure. Take dress-up clothes outside for a backyard fashion show, or go on a scavenger hunt around the area. The more creative and varied your activities are, the more kids will want to get out and enjoy them.
3. Encourage Family Time
Today’s families are busier than ever, but family time is far too valuable to miss out on. Quality family experiences nurture positive behavior and a healthy lifestyle in kids and can build meaningful memories.
Encourage your family to get out together as much as possible on weekends or some other regular schedule. Make a list of activities you can do to make their outings fun and memorable.
4. Encourage Free Play
While planned activities are an excellent way to keep little ones occupied, kids are kids. Young children have short attention spans and often create little adventures for themselves along the way. Don’t discourage this unstructured fun — supervised free play is essential in boosting kids’ creativity, communication, cognitive and mobility skills.
The best thing you can do to encourage free play is to leave children uninterrupted but supervised as they play on the playground with their friends.
5. Build Friendships
Kids naturally inspire each other, and children will likely want to spend more time outdoors if they have friends their age to enjoy it with. Encourage children to play together through structured outdoor group activities, and promote a healthy balance between alone time and cooperative play.
While it may take some extra effort to plan and supervise larger groups of kids, the joy and confidence children gain from exploring the world with other kids their age are worth developing.
6. Teach, but Don’t Lecture
The outdoors offers many wonderful teaching moments, but young kids can quickly shut down if you turn these moments into lectures. Practice the art of “show, don’t tell” — kids can learn a lot about behavioral and outdoor skills by observing you, even if you’re unaware they’re watching.
Encourage young ones to learn without lecturing by asking questions like “What do you think?” and remaining at eye level when talking to them. The goal is to make it seem less like you’re giving orders as you include kids in your activities.
7. Limit Access to Electronics
Children under 5 years old have an innate tendency to move if they don’t have devices to distract them. TV, online games and other electronics may be OK in moderation. But if kids get used to staring at a screen throughout the day, it may be hard to pry it away from them to go outdoors!
Try to avoid screen time during outdoor play, or make a schedule that gives little ones a restricted amount of screen time for every hour spent outdoors. Without interference from devices, kids will be much more likely to get moving.
8. Take Baby Steps
Kids aren’t going to be outdoor experts in one day, and that’s OK! Take your time and patiently encourage children to get outside by starting out small. Begin with a walk in the park or a trip to a local playground, then work your way up to bigger outdoor adventures with toddlers and young children as they explore the outdoors.
Outdoor Play Activities for Young Children
Now that you know how to excite young kids about playing outside, consider what activities will benefit and occupy their young minds and bodies. Try these activities if you need outdoor play ideas for toddlers and other young children.
1. Create Chalk Roads
Using chalk, draw various sized shapes and straight or curved lines. Have the kids jump from shape to shape and walk on the lines without falling. Ask them to do it while skipping, too, so this fun game helps them practice motor skills.
2. Plan a Nature Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are a fun way to promote outdoor time, walking and exercise. Kids can complete them individually or in a group.
Create a list of items in your backyard or local park, such as different types of flowers, leaves or rocks. You can include brightly colored pictures to appeal to toddlers. Try to assign a small number of easy items for young children to find. You can provide a more challenging list for any older kids to participate in the activity.
Give the kids baggies and accompany them as they search for items on the list. You can also give them a clipboard and pencil to check objects off as they locate them. Use this time to help them discover new things and learn about nature.
3. Plant Seeds
You can do this activity in a garden or using small cups or pots. Allow the kids to help you fill pots, dig in the soil, plant the seeds and water them. Teach them that the seeds will grow into plants if they’re patient.
4. Go on a Hike
Hiking is an excellent way to connect with nature, eliminating distractions like computers, phones, TVs and tablets. Instead, kids can learn new things about the outdoors, identifying different plants, insects, birds and other wildlife. Hiking is also a great way for families to bond.
National and state parks typically have maps with different hiking trails, many of which are kid- and family-friendly. Pack a backpack or two with snacks, water, bug spray and sunscreen, then venture out onto a local trail. Try choosing one with level terrain that’s easy for a young child to hike. Make sure you and the kids wear comfortable clothing and shoes for walking.
5. Serve the Community
A child is never too young to learn the value of helping their community. Volunteerism is a prime opportunity to get outdoors, while teaching kids valuable lessons like responsibility, compassion and humility.
Many schools and community organizations, like conservation groups and garden clubs, host outdoor cleanups and projects. Most city websites have monthly calendars with volunteer opportunities and community events.
See if there’s one in your area that young kids could participate in, like a tree planting day, weed pulling or cleaning up trash from a park. With the kids’ help, you can even organize a service event such as a car wash or outdoor movie night. Meet new people and boost your mood while encouraging outdoor activities.
6. Have a Picnic in the Park
A picnic in the park is another ideal opportunity to get kids outside. It teaches them the importance of cleaning up after themselves and preserving nature. A local or state park offers a beautiful picnic setting. You can either set up your lunch spread at a picnic table or place a big blanket over some grass.
To involve the kids in the planning process, you can have them help you create the menu and pack food, sunscreen, bug spray and other supplies. They can also suggest different games and activities, like catch, jumping rope and Frisbee. A field or other open park space is perfect for these activities.
Have the kids focus on the landscape as they eat. Ask them about things they can see, smell and hear to indulge their senses and learn about nature. As they throw away their trash and help clean up picnic supplies, they can learn about leaving nature as they found it.
7. Play in the Dirt or Mud
Playing in dirt or mud can be a form of sensory play for young kids. It can engage their sense of touch, help develop their tactile skills and allow them to interact with the natural world around them.
Have the kids wear old clothes so they can freely play in the dirt. Give them buckets and digging tools like small shovels, spoons or cups. You can challenge them to create mud pies or dig holes.
While they’re experimenting with dirt, they can also engage in gardening activities like pulling weeds, tilling the soil, planting seeds and watering plants. Before the kids get a bath, they can run and play through a sprinkler to clean up some of the dirt.
8. Try Geocaching
Geocaching is a digital treasure hunt where participants use a GPS to locate containers of small trinkets, or “caches,” left at specific coordinates by other hikers. These cache locations are all over the country in parks and other outdoor areas. Geocaching can help kids build navigation skills by learning about map coordinates.
You can teach them how to locate the coordinates, find and open the cache, take a trinket, then leave a small treasure for other hikers to find. For instance, they might leave glass stones, marbles, a small toy or a rock with a special message.
Climbing can help kids improve their balance and strengthen their bones and muscles. Many local playgrounds have jungle gyms, ladders and rock walls, offering the ideal space for kids to practice climbing under adult supervision. A short, stable tree can also be a good climbing spot. Warn them against climbing too high, jumping from dangerous heights and other injury risks.
10. Play in the Rain
There’s nothing like a rainy day to get kids outside, splash around, unwind and have fun. If the forecast doesn’t show lightning or thunder, have them put on their jackets and rain boots, then head outdoors to jump around in puddles. You can also provide them with water toys, buckets and sponges.
Have them describe how the rain sounds, feels and smells to engage their senses. Don’t forget to sing rain-themed nursery rhymes like “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring!” Playing in the rain is sure to spark some smiles and cheer, turning an otherwise dreary day into an opportunity for fun.
11. Look for Bugs
Believe it or not, those creepy-crawlies provide an opportunity to teach kids about the outdoors and nature. You can give them magnifying glasses to explore various bugs and insects. By having younger kids count the bugs they find and learn their species, you can help them develop number and classification skills.
Any older kids involved can jot down a list of the insects they found, while younger kids can draw pictures of them. You can also read a bug-themed book to help teach them about different insects. A bug hunt is an excellent educational opportunity for younger and older children alike.
12. Build a Fort
Fort building is a wonderful way to stimulate creativity and imagination. In a young kid’s mind, a fort can be anything from a secret treehouse to a magical castle. Kids can use blankets, sheets or even a large cardboard box to turn everyday items into the ultimate hideout.
When building a fort outdoors, you can use low-hanging tree limbs or a clothesline rope over a playset platform to drape blankets. If using a big cardboard box, you can have the kids decorate it with markers or paint.
By working together to build a fort, kids can discover the value of teamwork, independence, innovation and creativity. A fort is a private place for young kids to gather, interact, socialize and imagine creative scenarios, such as a treasure hunt in a pirate’s cave. Whether reading books, sharing snacks or brainstorming new games, a fort offers endless possibilities for fun.
13. Go Camping
Camping is an effective way to bond families, teach kids respect for nature and unplug from electronics. Pitching a tent under the stars, whether in a backyard or the woods, is a fun outdoor activity requiring minimal equipment and preparation. Grab some sleeping bags, pillows, lanterns or flashlights and plenty of snacks.
Find a spot where kids can observe the stars and constellations. Have them listen to and identify sounds from different animals and insects. You can also set up a campfire for roasting s’mores and hotdogs. Camping is a fun way to relax, get some fresh air and learn about the wilderness. It’s sure to create lifelong memories for your whole family.
14. Collect Leaves
Collecting leaves is a fun fall activity for kids. They can use small paper bags to collect leaves, finding different types, shapes and colors. Discuss the different leaves and the trees they grow from. You can also take this opportunity to teach them about trees and how they provide oxygen.
The kids can also do a leaf-rubbing activity where they place a sheet of paper over a leaf, then rub it with a crayon, colored pencil or pastel. By adding features such as eyes and mouths, they can let their imaginations run wild by creating leaf characters.
15. Watch the Clouds
Lying in the grass to watch clouds is a relaxing and imaginative way for kids to get outdoors. They can find shapes in the clouds, make up stories about them or draw their observations.
16. Take a Nature Walk
Aside from being an invigorating exercise, a nature walk can help kids develop observational and sensory skills. Give each participant a small paper bag, then have them walk around and gather various items like leaves, twigs, rocks and shells.
As a sensory activity, they can examine their treasures and determine how each one feels, looks and smells. Afterward, they can use these objects to create a collage, journal cover, decorated picture frame or another art project. They can also use them to make outdoor pictures in the dirt or sand.
17. Play on a Playground
Playgrounds let kids play in an unstructured environment while remaining under your watchful eye. Young kids can explore independently and play creatively.
Build a Beloved Outdoor Community Play Space With Playworld
Do you want to design and build an innovative playground space for kids to get outside? Playworld is ready to assist you. We’ve manufactured high-quality playground equipment to enrich communities for decades. You can experience the following benefits by choosing Playworld for your playground-building project.
- Diverse styles and designs: We have various playground styles designed for different age groups. For instance, our early childhood and preschool playground equipment is specifically for younger children aged 2 to 5 years.
- Commitment to safety and quality: Safety is always a priority at Playworld. That’s why we build our playground equipment from durable materials that resist warping, corroding and wobbling for many years. Playworld also uses tamper-resistant hardware to enhance your play area’s safety. We carefully engineer and test our premium materials to comply with international safety standards.
- Inclusive playground design: Playworld is a proud leader in inclusive play spaces. Our innovative designs help ensure kids of all abilities and ages can play together. You can find many inclusive playground design tips and solutions in our Inclusive Play Design Guide.
- Expert planning and design assistance: With many years of expertise, our team can help you design a playground to bring value to your community. We can also work with you to accommodate your financial needs, offering guidance on grants, fundraising and other options.
Playworld Has All the Early Childhood Playground Equipment Your Community Needs
Playground equipment designed specifically for early childhood is a great way to get young kids up and active, but it’s a need that often goes unmet. Playworld focuses on providing every child with the opportunity to enjoy age-appropriate play with an array of outdoor playground equipment for toddlers and young kids to enjoy.
For many years, we’ve served local communities, schools, daycare centers, places of worship and other organizations as a trusted manufacturer of affordable, innovative equipment loved by children and parents alike. If you’re ready to get kids excited to play outdoors, contact a play expert today!