“Spring is here said the bumblebee.
How do you know said the old oak tree.
I just saw a daffodil-
Sitting on a windy hill, a windy hill.
I just saw a daffodil!”
-One of my favorite early childhood springtime songs
Blooming trees, robins building nests, budding flowers, puddles, and mud pies… spring is here!
And there is no better time to start thinking about and preparing for outdoor playtime experiences for young children. Unfortunately, the necessity and importance of outdoor play is sometimes overlooked when working with young children. As early childhood educators, we know that the outdoor environment provides many opportunities for young children to grow, explore, observe, and learn.
Consider the following examples:
Infants are learning about the world through their senses. Taking infants for walks outside will give them the opportunity to smell, touch, see, and hear the world around them.
Toddlers are learning to use their large muscles—they are very active and need opportunities to run, jump, and climb. Taking toddlers outside will give them the space and time to use large muscles appropriately. At the same time, toddlers are experiencing an explosion of language development. Using the outdoor environment to label everyday objects in a toddler’s world will support language development.
Preschoolers are learning to play more cooperatively and at the same time, developing their ability to participate in imaginative and complex play scenarios. The outdoor environment can support and facilitate children’s imagination and group play. When teachers provide props (such as gardening supplies, tents, dress up clothes, etc) and time outdoors, we can spark children’s imagination and allow them to develop and elaborate their play. Also, by being available to help children learn how to negotiate and problem solve through these play scenarios, we can give them a foundation of social skills to last a lifetime.
School-age children exhibit developmental traits that allow them to participate in games with rules, demonstrate coordination and refined control of movement, and enjoy competitive activities. Outdoor games create and important opportunity for school-age children to practice their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual skills. When school-age children are provided outdoor space and time to play games freely (without adults controlling and mediating), they will learn to negotiate, problems solve, and get along with their peers.
These are just a few examples of how children learn through outdoor play experiences. With a little creativity and a few basic supplies, we have the ability to provide these outdoor experiences for children.
So, as spring is here, I ask that all early childhood educators take a PLEDGE to make time for children’s outdoor play experiences.