Outdoor Play - toddler running

Outdoor playing

Active toddlers at play

Both indoor and outdoor play experiences are important for children’s development. While recent research has shown a decline in the numbers of children engaging in active outdoor play, outdoor play is critical to your child’s healthy development. Outdoor areas are ideal places for children to engage in messy play with sand, water, paint and other art and craft activities. The outside playground offers a much wider variety of natural materials to stimulate the senses. Toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy playing with dirt, leaves, bricks, rocks, bark, water, plants and flowers.

Paddling pools are great for water play; your toddler will enjoy splashing and kicking, include cups and containers of different shapes and sizes for stacking, scooping and pouring. Bubble machines are also great for developing spatial awareness as your child excitedly attempts to catch bubbles floating through the air.

As children move into the preschool years (2-5 years), they engage in more active play, they are learning to use wheeled toys and enjoy climbing large playground equipment. Your child will also enjoy playing with balls, bowling sets, skipping ropes, and racket games. The outdoors presents more opportunities for children to engage in active play, important for the development of key motor skills such as running, balancing, chasing, throwing and catching. Active outdoor play has many health benefits; it enhances your child’s fitness, reduces the chances of obesity and promotes general wellbeing.

Outdoor play also offers children opportunities to explore their environment in relationship to themselves; create their own places for play; and engage in imaginative play experiences with both realistic (e.g., cubby houses, tents, clothes lines, trucks) and symbolic (e.g., cartons, logs, rocks) props. Outdoor play spaces are great for those times when children need to play games that involve lots of noise as well as non-violent rough-and-tumble play. Use these opportunities to talk to your child about “inside” and “outside” voices and the different volumes that go with these!

Outdoor active play can be intensely stimulating and creates opportunities for children to learn about and develop self-control. Research has shown that popular children are more likely to engage in high levels of physical play with peers. Unpopular children, on the other hand, seem to experience difficulty with the intensity of physical play and often become overstimulated and “out-of-control”. By playing actively with your child you are not only promoting good health and physical development but you are providing them with the opportunity to develop essential skills that will help them in their social interactions with peers.

For more information see Physical Development.

Written by Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett and provided to us by KiDS Central and the Early Learning Centre.