Ah, the great outdoors. While science has long known the positive benefits of adults communing with nature, research shows that children playing outdoors is beneficial to them as well. Experts have found that from improving eye sight and reducing stress, to supporting creativity and problem-solving, the positives of outdoor play cannot be underscored.
In an interview with Romper, Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Timbernook, says, "We are learning there are endless benefits to playing outdoors. One of the greatest is the sensory benefits when children spend time outdoors from a very early age. When you step outdoors, multiple senses are engaged. More synapses are firing in the brain. The child's chances for sensory integration (organization of the senses) are higher when in nature. This organization of the brain lays the foundation for learning later in life. The first seven years are critical for neuro-development. Therefore, getting little ones outdoors from infancy on should be a top priority for families."
Isn't that incredible? I must admit that despite my parents' best efforts, I was more interested in reading and playing with my Barbies indoors as a child. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with either of those things, I do feel like I missed out on some key outdoor playtime as a kid. In today's digital age, as parents compete with video games and Instagram selfies to get their child's attention, what can they do to encourage outdoor play? Hanscom says, "There are multiple things that families can do to encourage children to get outdoors. One would be to limit the amount of screen time children get. Maybe this is a treat — not something children have access to every single day. There really isn't a need for especially younger children to be on electronics. You can also invite friends over for the day. Having children to play with outdoors often helps with inspiration of new ways to play. Consider putting out materials like scrap wood, tires, blankets, and pots and pans to inspire children to build forts, play house, etc. We tend to have too many toys for children. By giving them simple ordinary (and just a few) materials that can be used for multiple purposes, we are setting them up to play in new and creative ways."
I wholeheartedly agree on these points. My children attended a Waldorf preschool when they were toddlers, and the school's philosophy centered around play with simple toys and materials and outdoor time every day, regardless of the weather. I suppose I was making up for my indoor hibernation years with this preschool decision, and fortunately it turned out to be a wonderful experience for both of them. And speaking of weather, when the temperature drops, Hansom believes this shouldn't be a deterrent for outdoor play. "Children still need frequent opportunities for movement and sensory rich play experiences that challenge and foster healthy growth, even in colder months. How do we do this? We make sure our children are dressed in layers to make sure they are comfortable and able to last in the cooler weather."
So as the school holidays ramp up and you find your children exceedingly loud, send them outside. Their sweet imaginations will come up with some incredible stories, and it'll be great for their development. (And your sanity.)
Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Timbernook