Celebrate Earth Day (and every day) with nature's playgroundWhat are some of your favorite memories playing as a child? Likely, many of those memories happened outdoors and included nature-based play – playing in the backyard, digging in a sandbox, catching bugs and butterflies, building stick forts or tree houses, playing tag, rolling in the grass, etc. Do your children play that way? Chances are they don't.
The importance of outdoor playThe outdoors is a great place for preschoolers to practice and master their gross motor skills. In the outdoors, children can move about freely - running, jumping and climbing. It’s the best place to practice hand-eye coordination like throwing, catching or hitting the ball, plus other manipulative skills like pushing a swing or pulling a wagon.
Outdoor play contributes to learning
The outdoors has more to offer than just physical benefits. Social/emotional and cognitive development are impacted too. Outside, children are more likely to invent games. They express themselves and learn about the world in their own way as they explore.
Learning to appreciate the outdoors
Preschoolers learn much through their senses. Outside there are a world of things for them to see (animals, birds, and green leafy plants); to hear (the wind in the trees or a bird singing), to smell flowers in a garden or fresh-cut grass; to touch (a fuzzy caterpillar or tree bark), and even to taste the rain on their tongue.Norma Smith, Early Childhood Teacher, shares many ways parents and children enjoy learning with nature’s playground in our outdoor classroom at Sorteberg Early Childhood Center:
The outdoor classroom offers many opportunities to connect children and parents with nature. It is a “yes” environment where everything shouts “play and touch me!” Teaching children and engaging them in nature communicates respect for our environment that lasts long after the class has ended. Nature is the place where children can use all their senses and learn by doing.
- In the mud kitchen, children make ‘soup’ and other baking delights.
- Using their large muscles to climb, the dirt pile is always a favorite activity, especially when children reach the top.
- Building a large nest on the ground with twigs and carrying big eggs around.
- Pounding flowers on paper to see the colors come through.
- Making music with a variety of tools on the music wall with pots and pans hung from a tree.
- Sifting for gold in the sandbox – beans are spray painted gold and children enjoy a treasure hunt in the sand – then when it rains and the beans sprout, another treasure is found.
- Looking for nature fairies.
- Exploring the paths and turn rocks over to find worms.
Try a few fun activities to get your family outside and enjoy nature’s playground!
- Nature walks – what do you see, hear, smell or what can you touch.
- Set up an obstacle course.
- Bring a sheet outside – shake it, make waves with it, bounce foam balls on it.
- Go on a bug hunt.
- Plant a container garden.
- Try water painting – paint a building or even the driveway.
- Blow bubbles.
- Enjoy a picnic.
- Have a backyard camp out.