There are two fundamental reasons why outdoor play is critical for young children in our early childhood programs and schools. First, many of the developmental tasks that children must achieve-exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge-can be most effectively learned through outdoor play.
Second, our culture is taking outdoor play away from young children through excessive TV and computer use, unsafe neighborhoods, busy and tired parents, educational accountability, elimination of school recess, and academic standards that push more and more developmentally inappropriate academics into our early childhood programs, thus taking time away from play. The following descriptions below (based on Wardle, 1996-2003) describe the main reasons why outdoor play is critical for the healthy development of young children.
Outdoor play enables children to enjoy the natural environment and learn to seek out exercise, fresh air, and activity. There is something fundamentally healthy about using the outdoors. Thus outdoor play develops disposition for the outdoors, for physical activity, and for care of the environment.
Children who engage in lots of physical activities at school tend to engage in more energetic activities at home, while children who have childcare and school experiences that lack active physical activity, engage in more sedentary behaviors at home, such as watching TV and computer use (Dale, Corbin, & Dale, 2000). Children who learn to enjoy the outdoors have a much higher likelihood of becoming adults who enjoy hiking, gardening, jogging, bicycling, mountain climbing, or other outdoor endeavors. This is critical as obesity becomes an ever-greater national concern and as we must all learn to care for and protect the environment.
Outdoor Play at The Vine Preschool
Outdoor play enables young children to learn lots and lots and lots of things about the world. How does ice feel and sound? Can sticks stand up in sand? How do plants grow? How does mud feel? Why do we slide down instead of up? How do I make my tricycle go faster? How does the overhang of the building create cool shade from the sun? What does a tomato smell and taste like? What does a chrysalis change into? Do butterflies have to learn to fly?
Much of what a child learns outside can be learned in a variety of other ways, but learning it outside is particularly effective-and certainly more fun! In the outside playground children can learn math, science, ecology, gardening, ornithology, construction, farming, vocabulary, the seasons, the various times of the day, and all about the local weather. Not only do children learn lots of basic and fundamental information about how the world works in a very effective manner, they are more likely to remember what they learned because it was concrete and personally meaningful.
Looking for a preschool program for your child? Learn more about our preschool program (3-5)