How Playing in Nature Helps Your Child’s Development
“It’s a beautiful day, get outside and enjoy it!”
How many times have you heard this throughout your life? Probably a lot! It’s a part of human nature to enjoy the great outdoors (when the weather is to our liking, of course). But did you know being outside can have actual benefits for your child’s development?
Playing in nature can help children of all ages with their motor skills, communication, social-emotional skills, sensory integration, and so much more! Here are some of the benefits of playing in nature.
Nature provides opportunities to explore and create. The wide open spaces and change of environment can be a great way for children to enjoy some unstructured playtime. Whether it’s playing in the sand or running around the park, nature helps kids use their imagination and creativity while playing.
In a new environment, there’s so much to explore. Exploring can also be a great way to have new social interactions, which helps with building social-emotional skills. Children can work on a scavenger hunt together, or observe an animal or insect with other kids. When exploration is done with peers, it creates opportunities for new experiences and friendships.
Nature promotes the use of executive function skills. Executive function skills are the life skills we use at every age, and that help us stay organized and independent. With unstructured play in nature, children are using creativity to solve problems and working memory to make up stories. They work their flexible thinking skills by testing boundaries and learning how to stay safe while exploring, creating, and having fun. They are strengthening and challenging their own life skills just by playing!
Children can have new sensory experiences in nature. The sounds of birds chirping, the smell of fresh cut grass, the feeling of warm sunshine—it’s all new and helping your little one learn! Children can take in so many new sights, sounds, and smells right in their own backyard. As they move more independently, children will also have opportunities in nature to use their proprioceptive and vestibular senses.
New sensory experiences can even help with developing language skills, because kids can learn how to identify what they’re seeing, smelling, hearing, and feeling!
Playing outside promotes physical exercise and motor skill development. From running to biking to scooping sand, so much of outdoor play includes fine and gross motor movements. Studies show children use more energy outdoors, because they are moving and exploring.
Being outside can reduce feelings of anxiety in children. Studies have shown time outside helps children feel relaxed. Because they are concentrated on their external environment, children focus less on internal feelings of worry or fear. Learning and exploring promotes confidence, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety in the long term.
So now that we know how awesome nature is for children, let’s get outside! Here are some fun outdoor activities for kids:
- Check out these fun outdoor activities.
- Get playing outside and celebrating nature with these Earth Day activities.
- From the beach to the backyard, sand play can be a fun and unique outdoor sensory experience.
- If your child has sensory processing issues, here are some great sensory friendly outdoor activities for warmer weather months!
- Looking to focus on your child’s mental wellness? Try practicing mindfulness while surrounded by nature.
- For outdoor fun that promotes learning, see these summer activities that promote learning.
- For outdoor play during the winter, check out these snow activities.
- If you have access to a pool, you can play some of these fun pool games.
How can you make sure your children are safe while playing outside? Outdoor play is great in that children get to try new things, but with new opportunities come new safety risks. Here are some safety basics to follow while children play outside.
- Make sure an adult is always supervising. Always keep an eye on them, and when appropriate, be by their side. This is especially important if children are playing around water. If children are playing on a structure like a playground, show them how to safely use the equipment before they play, or test out the equipment yourself.
- Teach children to never run out into the street or driveway. Many children play in their backyard, which means a neighborhood street is not too far away. Show children if a ball or object goes into the street, they need to stay in the yard and get an adult to help them, even if they don’t see any cars around.
- If it’s raining or you hear thunder, come inside. While playing outside during a light shower may be fun, lightning, hail, or other dangerous weather can come suddenly. It’s best to go inside during a storm.
- Make sure children wear proper safety equipment. Children should always have a helmet for bike riding, skateboarding, or any other activity that is on a hard surface. They should follow water safety rules when swimming. Follow any other safety equipment recommendations for whatever activity you may be doing, even if you’re just playing at home.
- Keep children protected from the sun. Follow these sun safety tips to make sure they stay safe under the sun’s powerful rays.
- Make sure children stay hydrated and take breaks. Running around on a hot, sunny day can exhaust our bodies quickly. Make sure children take breaks on warm days and drink lots of water.
- Avoid touching unfamiliar plants/items or tasting anything. If you encounter unfamiliar plants or objects, it’s best to avoid it until you learn more about it! You can even make it a fun project to try to figure out what it is by researching it online.
- Show children how to safely interact with others. Even if children are playing at home, it’s important that they know what to do if they are approached by a stranger.
If it’s a beautiful day, get out there and enjoy it!