With the rise in popularity of videos, computer games, and preschool apps many young children are spending more and more time playing inside. Sad, isn’t it? Parents want to reverse this trend, to see their little ones bright-eyed and apple cheeked, stumble into the house, with big smiles on their faces. While these activities can be educational, it is important to limit the amount of time spent on them — especially in the early years of childhood. Toddlers and preschoolers need to be playing outside where they can run, jump, and be loud — all those things you don’t want them doing in your living room. They will be learning things they can’t get inside and practicing physical skills they are developing.
Early Childhood News states that as many as half of children in the United States do not get enough exercise, which can lead to numerous health problems. Outdoor play is a simple way to get kids moving, because there is no better place for them to run, climb, and throw. Since young children are still developing these gross motor skills, when they are outdoors they can practice activities like catching a ball, pushing a swing, or pulling a wagon. Provide a few outdoor toys for your child — things he can ride on, pull or push, or lift and throw — but simply spending time in a large open space can encourage physical movement. Don’t forget to join in with your child and get some exercise of your own while you are at it.
When children play outside, they are likely to invent games to play with one another. Young children love to make up their own rules (which can sometimes drive you crazy trying to keep up), but doing this helps them learn about decision-making and problem solving. Though it may seem like they are just playing, young children are learning a lot as they have fun. They are learning to communicate with one another and cooperate with each other in order to play their games. Children may need help to take turns or keep score, but outdoor play allows them opportunities to practice these skills.
Even very young children benefit from outdoor play when they are exposed to many different sensory experiences that are different from their indoor experiences. Outside they hear birds chirping, feel the wind blowing, smell the freshly cut grass, and see the colorful flowers in the garden. Encourage your child to look at and feel new things they encounter outside. Touch the bark of the tree and the grass under your feet, and then compare the way each feels. Listen for different sounds that you might normally tune out: the engine of the airplane flying overhead, the leaves rustling in the wind, or the crunch of the gravel under your feet. Spending time outdoors will help children learn to appreciate the beauty around them and want to play there more often.
Ways You Can Help
Most children will play freely outside in an unstructured setting, but sometimes they need a little help getting started. You can provide an activity to get your child playing and then follow her lead to play along. Bring out an old sheet or blanket to play parachute games like shaking it up and down, bouncing small balls on top of it, or lifting it up and letting it float to the ground. Or, give her a bucket of water and a paintbrush and let her “paint” the fence, the playground, or the sidewalk. There is no mess and she will learn about evaporation while also exercising her upper body. Bubbles are another great activity to encourage children to chase, jump, and reach as they try to pop the bubbles you blow. No matter what you choose, make sure you are getting your children outdoors and moving. They will be healthier and happier for it!