Our child psychologist explains how a daily trip out is vital for expanding your little one’s mind and social skills
As you’re looking out of the window on a cold, crisp afternoon, you might be tempted to crank up the heating and play indoors with your little one. But from your child’s perspective, the great outdoors remains an exciting place, full of adventure and has limitless opportunities for exploration. She’s not seeing the nasty weather; she’s just wondering when she can get out and ride her bike or kick leaves about. Add to that the fact that outdoor play can be the start of her interest in an active, healthy lifestyle that’ll continue to develop throughout her childhood, and there’s no excuse not to get out every day – whatever the weather’s doing.
Outdoor play also benefits your child’s mental development. First of all, there’s the boost it gives her imagination. You’ll see her simply running along the grass, but in her head she could be doing all kinds of thrilling things – escaping from a dragon, running after a cartoon character or pretending to be her older brother.
You child’s observational skills will also be enhanced as she takes in new sights and sounds, learns how to group similar objects, such as leaves, stones and plants, and develops the ability to differentiate between different colours and forms. Her language will be developing too, as she extends her vocabulary with new words to describe her experiences.
Through outdoor play, children also learn risk assessment – or how to weigh up the possibility of injury – and about their own strengths and weaknesses. Your child will be pushing the boundaries, reaching for another rung on a climbing frame, walking that little bit further, or running further than before. Discovering that she’s able to climb that extra step or run slightly faster than she could before makes your toddler feel good about herself.
Energetic physical play enables her to learn what she can and cannot do – she’ll learn, for example, that she’s good at walking but not so steady when running – and through this process she gradually builds up a picture of herself and her abilities.
Finally, there’s her physical skills. Through outdoor play, your toddler builds and advances her motor skills, things like running, climbing, jumping, walking, stepping and balancing. It also hones her hand-eye co-ordination as she grips, pulls, holds and pushes.
Above everything else, it’s pure fun to get out in the fresh air – and you might just find your own energy levels and brainpower soaring, too.
There are plenty of places you can visit to extend the fun of being outdoors. Look up local play centres, farm parks or events going on in your area and invite friends for the day. Pack a picnic and a flask of tea and wrap up warm. Your tot will benefit from being outdoors and will also develop social skills by interacting with the other children.
1. Stay close to home. Start off with your garden or park since your toddler is familiar with that terrain.
2. Keep safe. If you have any doubts about a specific activity, try something else.
3. Don’t push it. If your child feels out of his depth, he’ll lose confidence so listen if he wants to avoid something.
4. Mix it up. New games keep outdoor play interesting. Try second-hand shops or websites for cheap games or accessories.
5. Keep it going at home with collages, relevant stories or food – such as baking apples like the ones you saw on the trees.
Children with an active lifestyle are less prone to depression. This could be because exercise releases endorphins, helping to create positive moods.
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