He had his hat on and water bottle in hand, and brimming with enthusiasm for going outdoors and searching for insects. He was closely followed by another child who loves to ride a bicycle as fast as he can, skillfully negotiating obstacles. And another child who wanted to take the sheets outside and play at camping on the hill. One of the children’s most treasured spaces is our outdoor area and everyday many of the children look forward to their time outside. Playgrounds are places where children’s play can take off and flourish. Providing for the outdoor play needs of young children is a complex and challenging task. However, because often our children experience fewer and fewer opportunities to explore nature, run, roll, climb, and swing and because outdoor play is part of being a child, we try to do our best to find a variety of ways to provide quality outdoor play experiences for the children.
I asked the children why they loved to be outside.
“It’s fun in bike. You can ride on it and you don’t get tired.”
“I like playing the tree house and playing pirates and playing with my friends.”
“I want to play with my friends. I want to play with everyone.”
“There’s lots of toys. It’s nice fun. I like everything.”
“I like to ride bikes. They have pedals and three wheels. I like building bricks because I want to make a house. I like the wind to fly kites.”
“Because somebody can play. I like bikes. I can ride in the bikes. I like the wind day, windy, windy, windy.”
“I like the rain and the muddy muddy puddles.”
“I like to find snails too. And ride my bikes.”
“I love to play soccer and games like that with my friends.”
The children’s comments resonated with our own fundamental beliefs, that outdoor play is critical for young children and that we embrace the outdoors as an integral part of the learning environment. Many of the developmental tasks that children should have access to —exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge—can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. At times our culture is taking outdoor play away from young children through screen time and passive use of digital technologies, unsafe neighbourhoods, busy and tired parents and educational programs that reduce time away to play. Today children’s lives are more and more contained and controlled by small apartments; high-stakes academic instruction; schedules; tense, tired, and overworked parents; and by fewer opportunities to be children.
Through playing outdoors the children can have opportunities for:
- physical exercise
- enjoyment of the outdoors
- learning about the world
- learning about self and the environment
- improved health
- encouraging different kinds of play
- physical play
- constructive play
- social play.
- socio-dramatic play.
- games with rules
- allowing children to be children
Outdoor environments fulfill children’s basic needs for freedom, adventure, experimentation, risk-taking, and just being children. They relish the opportunity to explore the unknown, the unpredictable, and the adventurous. They also need to be able to wonder at nature, from the worm gliding through the newly turned dirt in the garden to the monarch butterfly emerging out of the chrysalis and gracefully fluttering away in the summer breeze.
Think back to when you were a child, perhaps you were like me and have endless fond memories of making mud pies, stomping in puddles, digging the garden, running with the wind on your face…
I wonder what your favorite memories are?