Why do we need outdoor play and learning?

Why do we need outdoor play and learning?

In my recent blog post, I spoke about how being outdoors & around nature had given me time to reflect and think clearly and how in that moment with nature nothing else seems to matter. It is so important for our own well-being to try to connect with nature everyday and the Covid19 lockdown has highlighted the importance of getting outside, spending quality time outdoors and slowing down. A couple of weeks ago I discussed the importance of the outdoors in play and learning live on Instagram and I thought it would be useful to write this down to support you in your play & learning with your children or in your educational settings. 

For me personally, as I return to more normality I want to take with me from my lockdown experience the ability to pause, to not over schedule and to be ok with not being too busy! When I think about how I want my little boy to be brought up and how I want to educate the children that I teach my core principles are that they are taught key skills in order to be lifelong learners, to have resilience to overcome any future difficulties they will face and to be empowered to investigate, discover and flourish in the world around them. We don’t know what the future will be, but it is our job as parents and educators to prepare our children by developing these skills so that they can take control of their own learning and life style choices. 

I believe that one of the best ways to learn these key life skills is through first hand experiences, being child led and in the great outdoors. Historically, being around nature is how we as humans lived our lives. Our grandparents, great-grandparents and ancestors spent so much more time exploring, working and enjoying being outside. Even today when we are outside, we are surrounded by telephones, technology and not switching off. As a generation up to 90% of our time is spent indoors. 

As a child, some of my favourite memories were times spent outdoors. In primary school we used to have a reading tree and going outside to listen to the story at the end of the day outdoors was so magical compared to staying inside. In secondary school we were lucky to have an amphitheatre, although it saddens me it was a rare, but fun occasion when this was used. My fondest memories of school are the outdoor trips and residentials. I’ve spent many a holiday and weekend enjoying the outdoors with friends and family too. Being outdoors is that time to escape, be free, think, enjoy and take a break. For our children I believe it’s a time for them to explore freedom, have adventures, express themselves and improve their physical and mental health and development. 

Being outdoors has many benefits. It is vital to improve well-being, it is calming, peaceful, and allows us to tune in with ourselves and the world around us. For our children it is vital for supporting their brain development. By exploring with their senses for example, touching flowers, listening to the birds, feeling droplets of water and smelling the fresh air they are strengthening the connections in their brain. My earlier blog post highlights the importance of sensory experience. The hands on element of learning in nature and outdoors makes the learning stick. It doesn’t matter what age or what subject, the more active and hands on the learning, the more memorable the experience will be and with a memorable experience the learning will stay! 

By playing outside children are free to truly express themselves physically by running, jumping and playing. This develops their gross motor skills and helps them to keep fit. It allows them to develop the key life skills I mentioned earlier. If it rains – how will they react? Does this mean play time is over, or does this mean there’s a new opportunity to learn? Can we use it as an opportunity to extend vocabulary and develop their communication and language? Can we discuss cause and effect? For example, saying to your child, “it’s raining - what can we do so we can stay out here? Let’s get our wellies and rain coats!” 

One thing that I am passionate about is that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! This is a key philosophy of Forest Schools and an approach adopted by many of the Scandinavian countries. I personally believe it is so important for children to be outside in all weathers (with the appropriate clothing) because it enhances their understanding of the world around them. They learn to understand how the change in environment affects their body. For example, If it’s sunny and I feel hot, what should I do? They also get a first hand experience of natural phenomenas such as clouds – why would you teach about the clouds from a picture when you can take children outside to study the different formations? 

Outdoor play and learning is vital for newborns right through to primary school aged children. It doesn’t always have to be a well thought out pre planned activity, and in fact, going on an adventure in the woods or setting up an outdoor invitation to play such as petals, mud and kitchen utensils will prompt so much learning from something so simple. Even with babies, doing their tummy time practise outside instead of inside will provide a more in-depth sensory experience as they can listen to the birds and visually take in the different surroundings. 

Check out my outdoor learning ideas and inspiration section for great activities to do with your children outdoors.

As always, I’d love to see your photos and hear your comments - how are you going to play outside today? Please tag me on social media (if you are a public account) or email me / DM me directly. 

Ruth x

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