The Benefits of Outdoor Play in Early Years

Written by Shayle Follows

The benefits of outdoor play in early years are plentiful. Outdoor play encourages creativity and provides opportunities to develop imagination and resourcefulness.

We believe it is essential that children get frequent and regular opportunities to explore, learn and play in an outdoor environment.

Advances in modern technology and indoor activities, such as television, video and computer games can reduce access to the outdoors for many children. Increased concern over safety is also a huge factor that can reduce access to the outdoors. Here we explore the benefits of outdoor play in early years children.

Benefits Of Outdoor Play In Early Years

6 reasons outdoor play is beneficial for early years children

“Restore balance. Most kids have technology, school, and extracurricular activities covered. It’s time to add a pinch of adventure, a sprinkle of sunshine, and a big handful of outdoor play.” ~ Penny Whitehouse

Fine Motor Skills Early Years Play Outdoors

1. Outdoor play can improve children’s fine motor skills

It has been proven that 0utdoor play improves children’s fine motor skills. Taking part in outdoor activities such as throwing and catching, picking up natural treasures such as acorns, leaves and pinecones, den building and lots more all help to greatly improve children’s fine motor skills.

Independence Early Years Play Outdoors

2. Outdoor play develops children’s sense of independence

Even though a parent, teacher or guardian will always be near. Outside of the home or classroom children feel a great sense of freedom and independence as they are left to explore and play freely.  They get time to take risks, invent games, guide their own learning, consider their boundaries and figure out what they’re capable of doing. Children will take risks, try and fail, and try again, they gain resilience and confidence.

Mental Health Early Years Play Outdoors

3. Outdoor play improves mental health and physical health

Outdoor play has also been shown to benefit children by giving them an outlet for excess energy. Being physically active outdoors is a great way for children to have fun and exercise. It is also proven that exposure to sunlight improves moods and strengthens immune systems. It’s not just beneficial to physical health it is also great for mental health and well being. Being in natural surroundings has a calming effect which leads to children feeling more happier and healthy. It gives children the chance to escape from the stresses of everyday life.

Communication Early Years Play Outdoors

4. Outdoor play improves relationships with peers and increases openness with parents and caregivers

Indoors is a smaller more competitive space which for some children can be very overwhelming. For some children especially early years this can intimidate them and can prevent them from speaking out, opening up and sharing with teachers and peers. Opening up the environment, offering space and spending time outdoors can really help children to be more open with parents and caregivers as they are not competing with others.

Teamwork is an important factor of outdoor play which naturally helps children to interact positively with each other. They are kids though! So there will, of course, be arguments here and there but generally, children playing outdoors are likely to work together and develop strong relationships with their peers.

Openess is a benefit of early years play outdoors

5. Outdoor play helps children to develop an appreciation for the environment

Lots of children who spend a considerate amount of time carry on a love of nature into their adult years. Making lots of memories outdoors with children such as watching sunsets, spotting wildlife, splashing in the sea, exploring a forest, collecting treasures etc. will create fond thoughts about nature for children as they grow. This often builds awareness and compassion for the environment.

Better senses are a benefit of outdoor play in early years

6. Outdoor play makes use of all five senses

Children playing outdoors are using all of their senses, even taste as they try blackberries they have picked for example, or marshmallows they have toasted around a fire. For early years children, this familiarizes them with a variety of sensory experiences, this enables them to process them easier as they continue their journey, grow and develop.

Choose a school that encourages outdoor play and learning

All children learn differently, some children will absolutely thrive in a classroom setting others will feel overwhelmed by it and that’s ok. We’re not all meant to be the same! Some children will naturally learn best through active movement. Early years children learn predominately through their sensory and physical experiences. Taking learning outdoors is a brilliant way to enhance learning.

Forest Schools is a great way to encourage early years learning

The great thing in regards to outdoor play is how adaptive schools have become in recent years and there are lots of schools that support and encourage learning in an outdoor setting whether that be in their own allotments, forest schools, gardens, fields, beach or any outdoor space local to them. This is brilliant because it promotes healthy and active lifestyles, offers children opportunities for physical activity, freedom and movement, and gives children a great sense of well-being.

Rockpooling School Early Years Play Outdoors

Choosing a school that encourages outdoor play in early years will mean your child will be able to play safely and freely while also learning to assess risk and develop their skills to manage new situations. For many children, whilst in their early years setting this might be the only opportunity to spend quality time learning outdoors that they get.

Learning outside the classroom gives children contact with the natural world and offers them experiences that are unique to the outdoors, they will have direct contact with the weather and witness the seasons changing. Playing outside will help children to understand and guide them to respect nature, their environment, animals, plants, and lifecycles.

Encourage outdoor play at home and get involved too!

Outdoor play is fantastic because it can cost very little to nothing at all. There are plenty of ways to encourage outdoor play without breaking the bank. Don’t worry if you don’t have access to a garden or outdoor space of your own, going on walks, visiting local outdoor areas or using family and friends outdoor spaces is just as effective.

Play Swing Early Years Play Outdoors

Outdoor play and learning can be as simple as going for a walk with children, check out our Planning a Woodland Walk with Children blog post for some tips and tricks to get you started.

Try our scavenger hunt

Children love to collect things, they will naturally pick things up they are drawn to during a walk. This activity can be really educational, a great exercise for the body and mind. There are so many things you can find, don’t forget to take a small bag to fill with treasures!

Try a Scavenger Hunt to encourage Early Years Play Outdoors

You can make your scavenger hunt into a game and take our Woodland Walk Bingo Card out with you! Don’t forget to tag us in photos of you completing our Bingo Card on our Facebook, and Instagram we would love to see your collections and all your woodland adventures.

Why not create your own outdoor classroom?

If you want to expand your classroom beyond the standard four walls then we have totally got you covered with our own outdoor classroom ideas. Maybe you are a teacher who is thinking about adapting and making better use of your outdoor space at school. Maybe you’re a parent, grandparent, or caregiver who wants to transform their garden into a place of fun outdoor learning.

Don’t worry if you have limited green space at home some of our outdoor classroom ideas can be applied on the go or in local parks etc. Check out our full blog post on How to Create an Outdoor Classroom here.

Here are some products we love to use in our own outdoor classroom and out and about on adventures to enhance learning;

Mud Kitchens

Getting muddy and playing in the dirt is just a natural instinct for kids. We love a ‘messy mud play’ designated area. You can buy a brilliant mud kitchen or design and make your own from scrap material.

On the go explorer kits

My son loves nothing more than hunting for minibeasts and insects, these explorer kits are a brilliant way to encourage adventure and study wildlife.

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