This article was originally published in the Racine Journal Times.
Young children have tons of energy to burn! As parents, finding ways to help them exert that energy in a safe and positive way can sometimes be challenging when we have technology at our fingertips or when weather doesn’t cooperate (like here in Wisconsin).
Whenever possible, outdoor play is one of the best ways to help children use their energy and it comes with lots of benefits for children’s health and learning. The best thing about outdoor play is that it’s free and provides long-lasting positive effects on children into adulthood.
Outdoor play for preschool children is important to their learning and development. According to the Harvard Health Blog (May 2018), outdoor play helps children learn how to plan, prioritize, problem solve, negotiate and multi-task - all skills that are critical for school and life success.
Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to explore and practice these skills by making up games with their friends, investigating and figuring out how the world works, taking risks and learning how to keep themselves entertained instead of relying on technology. It also offers children the opportunity to socialize and understand relationships. It is through positive and negative interactions with others that children learn what socially acceptable behavior is and how to maintain friendships.
There are lots of physical and health benefits for young children when they are involved in outdoor play. Outdoor play offers children exposure to Vitamin D which comes from the sun. VItamin D exposure and fresh air help to boost a child’s mood and support sleep which means our children are more rested each day for school and other daily activities (Harvard Health Blog, May 2018). Vitamin D also helps boost a child's immune system which can mean less illness (Harvard Health Blog, May 2018).
Outdoor play also offers children opportunities for gross motor or large muscle play. When children run, jump and climb their bodies get the physical activity required to build strong bones and muscles.
● Dress for the weather! Don’t forget sunscreen and dress in warm layers during cold months with mittens, hats and boots if needed.
● Take a large ball outside and let children kick, chase and lay on top of it!
● Go for a walk! Talk with your child about the colors that you see. Take time to notice the animals and appreciate the beauty of nature.
● Don’t be afraid to get dirty! Allowing children to dig in dirt and soil provides them with the opportunity to learn about the earth and the physical world.
Talk with your child’s teacher or care provider about safe and fun outdoor places in the community. Or visit community centers and ask about any programs that are available or places in the community that are free of charge for your family to use. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!
Amy Shepherd - RUSD Director of Early Learning
Joleen Carlson - RUSD 4K Coordinator