Autumn is certainly here and there is a definite nip in the air. However, come rain or shine children love the great outdoors. Being outside has many benefits, and as the old saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’. So armed with wellies and waterproofs let us explore what benefits being outside offers our children.
- vitamin D – Vitamin D is essential to keep our immune systems healthy and supports healthy bone development. Exposure to the sun helps our bodies make Vitamin D, and while it is important to ensure we do not spend long periods in the sun (especially during the hottest part of the day); our bodies work best if they get some sunshine every day. Remember hats, sun protection (even on cloudy or cooler days) and to drink plenty of water.
exercise – the NHS guidelines state that children under five who are capable of walking should be physically active for 3 hours throughout the day. Being outside is a great way to increase children’s physical activity. Using large open spaces so children can run and develop gross motor skills will benefit their overall physical health.
risk taking – being outside gives children many opportunities to take managed risks. Risk taking is an important part of children’s development. Many children are good at knowing what risk they are ready to explore within their comfort zone. Adults need to balance the benefit of an activity against the risk, using their professional knowledge of the individual child. Without exposure to risk, children cannot learn to navigate it effectively.
connecting with nature – taking time to use all of our senses and connect with the world around us can have positive effects on mental wellbeing and self-esteem. Noticing what we can see, hear and smell (the insects in the grass, the birds’ nests in the trees, differences in the leaves, plants and flowers) all help develop an understanding of how the world around us works and how to take care of it. Many children find spending time in natural environments very calming.
We, as adults, might not always feel like being outside, but the positive impact on children’s physical, emotional and cognitive learning and development makes it well worth the effort!
Why not take on the ‘rain or shine challenge’ this autumn and try to get outside every day?
Here’s 5 FREE things you could do outside this autumn and winter:
1. Cloud shapes
Wrap up, take a walk to a local field or park, and set up some picnic blankets or chairs. Lay back and look into the sky. Ask these questions and make time to listen to the answers. What can you see? What shapes are in the clouds? Where is the aeroplane going? How high are the birds? What are clouds made from? Can you trace round them with your finger in the air? Remember never to look directly at the sun.
2. Visit a local woodland
Is there a wood, forest or cluster of trees nearby? Remembering to be mindful of dangerous plants and berries, adults can teach children to collect fallen branches, sticks and leaves to make a den. Balancing and building with natural resources to create dens and structures develops children’s perseverance, problem solving and physical skills. If you are feeling adventurous you could take a blanket, sheet, picnic and hot drink with you to enhance the experience.
3. Somewhere to splash
From streams to puddles, water can provide amazing sensory experiences for children and is great fun. If the water is flowing you could play pooh sticks, bringing in mathematical and scientific thinking and language about the speed, size, and direction of travel. This is also a great opportunity to explore safety rules and behavioural expectations that ensure children stay safe around water.
4. Inside out
What do your children love to play with that is usually an ‘inside’ toy? Moving a favourite construction or small world resource outside can open a whole world of new play and imagination opportunities that develop and extend children’s thinking and experience. Children could be encouraged to use natural materials such as sticks, leaves, grass and stones to enhance their play. This can help develop children’s concentration, creativity and build links in their learning.
5. Go and explore
Whether you go on an ‘eye spy hunt’ or geocaching (geocaching.com), exploring new places outside and finding new things supports every aspect of children’s development as well as promoting curiosity, awe and wonder. You can develop this even further by researching what you have found, taking a trip to the library or use the internet together to find out more.
The key message of the Health and Safety Executive 2012 publication children's play and leisure - promoting a balanced approach states:
‘Play is great for children’s well-being and development. When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits. No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool’
So, it’s time to put on our coats and wellies, risk assess and grab the opportunities before us that are free and abundant in the great outdoors and have some fun!
Have you downloaded the FREE ’50 Things to do before you’re 5’ app yet?
50 free or low cost activities for parent and carers to do with their under 5’s in Hertfordshire - creating memories, having new experiences and helping them gain new language skills and confidence whilst having fun.
Download the app from the App store or Google Play or visit hertfordshire.50thingstodo.org and under Regions, select Hertfordshire.
Hertfordshire County Council have commissioned the Herts for Learning Early Years team to ensure all activities within the app include links to local services and places to visit. The activities have been designed to support families and focus on developing important early language skills. The app provides a library of home learning activities that are either free or very low cost to families in Hertfordshire.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and how to share the app with your parents and carers.