Research suggests that children might build stronger immune systems, play more creatively, and have more active imaginations when they play outside. Fjortoft 2004; Burdette & Whitaker 2005
What do children learn when they play outside?
All of these activities strengthen a child’s physical literacy. Physical Literacy is the fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity mastering of situations.
When children are outdoors they become more aware of how their body works. They can run, jump, swing or sit, scoop, listen. Nature time allows them to interact with the world in many ways – quiet ways as they watch a hummingbird or listen to the water hitting the shoreline. They have the chance to hear loud sounds as they hear the waves crashing onto the rocks as the tide changes or use their own voice to make an echo. They can build their knowledge of physical sounds as they hear the splash from the rock that they toss in the water compared to the sound of a rock hitting the hard surface of the larger rocks. They are building their vocabulary as they gain knowledge of objects found in nature and how that object looks, feels, sounds, tastes, smells. It is not the same as a Google search of the same object. Touching a rock and turning it over in your hand – the feel of the cold rock as it turns warm from your body heat cannot be explained on Google as well as it can be explained by experience.
What are some activities that promote body knowledge through play in nature? Some of these activities need nothing other than being outside and some will need a few items from the house but all can be done by toddlers and preschoolers with a little adult assistance.
Nature Tape Bracelets: using a piece of clear packing tape, sticky side up, make a bracelet around your child’s wrist. As you walk around the yard or park, pick up things of nature to add to your bracelet. This is a time to teach your child names of plants and respect for living things as well as personal property. I had quite a conversation with my nephew as to why we could pick buttercups and dandelions, but not from the neighbor’s hydrangea bush. In our play area at preschool we made bracelets from ferns, grasses, buttercups, lilac blossoms, small pine cones and feathers I had purchased.
Treasure Hunt: Make a map of places on your walk ahead of taking your child on the walk. The treasure map can be drawings or with pictures from your phone. At the end of the walk you can bury a surprise for them to find. We would walk through Discovery Park and in the sandy area by the bluff they would dig up the buried treasure…a baggie of snacks or a little toy that someone had buried ahead of the children getting there. We would have that person stand nearby to keep puppy dogs from getting the treasure before the kids get there ;-)
Surprise Homes: Leave a piece of cardboard, cloth or plastic in an area of dirt or bark. After a few days have the child lift up the cover – it is amazing to see what little creatures have made a home under the cover. Worms, potato bugs and slugs love to live under those covered areas in the dirt.
Build a Village: Using twigs, rocks and your imagination build little pretend homes for the “little people”. With children in our neighborhood we built a Leprechaun Village, We used leaves for beds and dandelions flowers for pillows, rocks and bark to build tables and chairs, pine cones were made into walls and sticks were telephone poles. They even created a pond with boats and a dock. We would look for treasures the Little People would leave us (small treats) and we would leave them shiny rocks or marbles. The village stayed under my plants in my garden for the whole summer.
Scientific Search: Using child safe magnifying glasses and/or binoculars go on a walk in search of __________. You can go on a rock search, a bird search, a tree search or a flower search. I have plasticized cards with animals, plants, trees on them. A mom came up with the idea of using an erasable marker to cross off what you find on the walk. You can make your own from pictures and put contact paper over the paper for protection from the elements (and makes them tear-proof and re-usable for more walks)
Read a Book: Read a book outside under a tree. It is a great way to introduce literature and just enjoy time together in nature.
Watch the Clouds: In Seattle we lots of cloudy days but we do not often get the kind of clouds that you can just watch – the big, fluffy, white clouds. On the days we do take a blanket and go outside. While you lay and watch the clouds you can: talk about what you see, talk about colors and texture or just lay and watch without talking at all. Clouds are amazing.
Worm Walks: After a rainy day (or on a rainy night) take flashlights and go outside for a walk. You will be surprised at the earthworms that are stretched out on the sidewalks. On some nights we would count 10 on just one sidewalk square. Try to catch one – they are fast and slippery. If there are no worms out - it is still fun to be outside with flashlights!
Puddle Stomping Walk: Oh the fun of splashing in puddles. We had a favorite route to take after a rain storm – lots of big puddles for stomping in. Kids love puddles and there are a lot of discoveries you can make. How big of a splash, can you walk without making a splash, watch the ripples after the splash, look at the reflections in the still water and in the water after the splash -- These are fun questions to ask your child. Respectfully listening to their ideas and thoughts is one way to build a strong relationship with your child. No puddles to be found? Or your child (or you) prefer not to get wet -- Storm drains are fascinating with the rain water running into them and the sound that makes.