The Importance Of Outdoor Play In The Early Years

Providing children opportunities to connect to the natural environment and explore and learn outdoors is a part of every day.

August 11, 2020

The Importance Of Outdoor Play In The Early Years

Providing children opportunities to connect to the natural environment and explore and learn outdoors is a part of every day.

At Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure, providing children opportunities to connect to the natural environment and explore and learn outdoors is a vital, enriching part of every day.  

Tend a garden, take a stroll through a leafy park, or turn your face to the sun on a crisp winter morning, and you’ll experience first-hand what science proves to be true: time spent outdoors in nature or green spaces reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue, and makes you happier, kinder and more creative. In the words of author Florence Williams: “The more nature, the better you feel”.

For these reasons and more, the outdoors is the ultimate classroom — and at no time is this more evident than in early childhood. An ever-growing body of research shows that outdoor learning can advance a child’s development in several key areas, including:  

Cognitive Development And Academic Performance

·      Being outdoors stimulates brain development.

·      Daily exposure to natural settings increases children’s concentration and cognitive abilities.

·      Learning in natural environments improves academic performance in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, and enhances critical thinking and problem solving.

Mental Health, Self-Regulation And Improved Behaviour

·      High quality outdoor environments are associated with more constructive play.

·      Time spent in green spaces reduces mental fatigue — even just seeing nature can decrease feelings of fear, anger or aggression.

·      Children who spend more time playing outside are more likely to take risks, seek out adventure and develop self-confidence and self-discipline.

·      With access to a natural outdoor setting, children can engage in meaningful opportunities to cooperate, negotiate and collaborate with peers.

·      Studies indicate that contact with nature in childhood helps to shape a lasting environmental ethic and an interest in environmental professions.

Physical Activity, Nutrition And Gross Motor Skills

·     Outdoor play provides children the chance to use their bodies in vigorous ways for long periods of time.

·     Children who play outside are generally more fit and show significantly improved motor skills, including better coordination, balance and agility.

·     Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables and continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives.

Despite the benefits of outdoor play in early childhood, changing social and environmental factors mean children are spending less time outside than ever before. A 2018 study of 500 Australian families found that one in three kids didn’t spend time outdoors more than twice a week, and 71 percent spent less than an hour a day outdoors.

Sanctuary’s educators understand outdoor play is a pivotal part of a child’s healthy development and wellbeing — which is why we’re so passionate about creating meaningful opportunities for children to explore and enjoy the natural environment.

Informed by the Reggio Emilia approach, which values the environment as a child’s ‘third teacher’ (after parents and educators), every Sanctuary centre is purpose-built to engage the senses and invite curiosity and discovery. Our spacious outdoor playscapes showcase nature’s beauty, with plants, trees, flower and herb gardens, and thoughtfully integrated natural elements and learning resources.  

The Outdoor Classroom

Some creative ways the Sanctuary team facilitate children’s learning outdoors*:

Alfresco dining. Mealtimes are a chance to slow down, nourish our bodies and connect with each other in peaceful surroundings.

Alfresco sleeping. Elevating rest time to new levels of relaxation! Weather permitting, we set up the children’s cosy sleep space in a comfortable shaded area so they can be lulled into dreamland by the calming sounds of nature.

Building dens, shelters and sunshades. Pop-up gazebos, or dust sheets, doona covers and saris are used to construct spectacular outdoor learning hubs.

Water play. Splish, splash! Water play isn’t only lots of fun, it also improves dexterity and hand-eye coordination and introduces concepts of buoyancy and volume.

Unstructured outdoor play. The freedom to run, jump, skip and roam, to follow intrinsic curiosities and grow in awe of nature’s rhythms and abundant gifts, is perhaps the greatest delight of all.

*At Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure, we take sun safety seriously. Sun protection, including hats and sunscreen, are compulsory for outdoor activities, and our educators take extra care to make sure children are always kept cool and hydrated