Toddlers love to get outside! Countless studies have shown time outdoors produces significant improvements in their learning ability and creativity, as well as their mental and emotional wellbeing. Here’s what makes outdoor play so good for your toddler…
Use your imagination
Whether it’s being a jungle explorer in the woods or making a den in the garden, playing outside has huge benefits for your child’s creativity. Nature is a great prop for the imagination, explains psychologist Charles Fernyhouse, author of The Baby in The Mirror (£8.99, Granta). ‘Unlike toys, sticks and leaves don’t look like the represented object. A stick is just a stick, but if your little one wants it to be something else, like a sword or a fairy wand, she will have to engage her imagination!’
The joy of messy play
As any mum of a toddler knows, young children have an eternal fascination with muddy puddles – and being outdoors gives them a wonderful opportunity to get their hands wet and feet muddy. ‘It’s really important to explore all different textures and smells of nature. If they don’t do enough of it they get scared of getting their hands and clothes dirty, or that they might find a creature in the grass,’ says Jo Scofield, co-author of Nature’s Playground (£16.99, Frances Lincoln).
But making mud pies or building sand castles aren’t just fun activities, they’re a science lesson too, says Charles Fennyhouse. ‘Will a stick float or sink when thrown into mud or water? How far up my wellies will the water go? Nature isn’t just a playgrouns, it’s also a classroom – with willing students!’
The space and freedom of being outdoors is incredibly important for your toddler’s physical development. By letting her run and jump, skip and hop, or helping her balance along a low wall or a log not only will you be helping her build strength and coordination, but she’ll also build up a picture of what she can achieve and will learn a valuable lesson in risk assessment.
‘As a parent, you naturally want to protect your child, but we believe the best way to do this is not to stop them doing potentially risky things,’ says Jo. ‘Surely, it’s better to give her the skills to judge risk for herself. Common sense is not something you can teach your little one – she needs to learn it for herself.’
Little nature lover
Embracing the great outdoors as a family will encourage your child to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, and is hugely educational, too. The key to a successful family walk, advises Jo, is not to expect too much. ‘There’s no point going on a mission to get to the top of a hill if your little one is quite happy poking around in the earth with a stick,’ she says. ‘Take your lead from her, while firing her curiosity by pointing out things of interest and for her to identify.’
Charles Fennyhouse agrees: ‘Finding things like cocoons, egg shells, bird’s nests, snails, flowers, trees and animals in a field all make great topics of conversation and present an opportunity to learn.’ Be led by your child and remember, the more flexible you are, the more fun you’ll have!