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Why Outdoor Play Is Important For Your Child's Development

July 30, 2020

Discover the learning opportunities outdoor play offers all year round! Here’s how you can make the most of your family’s outdoor play time at the park, in your backyard, or on your balcony.

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There’s no wrong way to play outdoors and there are countless play and learning opportunities! When heading outdoors, give your child the freedom to take the lead – to discover sticks, leaves, rocks, and dirt and to turn these objects into their own play objects.

A stick is not just a stick but a wand, or a candle, or a balance beam! Rocks are great for building, counting, and art!

A child breaks an icicle off a rock in a lakeside park during winter outdoor play

There are so many different textures to discover outside! From smooth ice to rough tree bark, children can explore endless sensory experiences.

A woman holds a toddler up to look at a tall sunflower in the garden

There are lots of beautiful colours outdoors – discover the flowers, birds, and leaves and all the different colours they come in!

Keep reading for some of our favourite outdoor play ideas!

Outdoor play ldeas!

Click or tap on any of the images below for more information on that play idea.

Three toddlers use paintbrushes to spread water on a stone wall outdoors
A child's hand spritzes dandelions with water using a spray bottle
A toddler waters a plant in the garden
A child draws a stick figure on the ground using chalk
Two children splash in a puddle in a paved park area
Dandelion heads float in water in kitchen containers for a child's dandelion stew activity
A preschooler uses a wooden hammer to break ice cubes in the driveway
A child picks up stones on a nature walk

What is my child learning outdoors?

A toddler explores the outdoors by touching a plant in the garden

Literacy Skills

The outdoors is filled with objects children don’t normally see inside. Exploring and talking about the rough texture of bark on a tree or the smooth, round stone you found helps to expand your child’s vocabulary.

Math Concepts

Counting sticks, leaves and stones is a great way to incorporate numeracy into your child’s learning outdoors.

Science Concepts

Being outdoors and exposed to very different objects than when they are inside prompts children to find answers to all sorts of questions through exploration. Throwing a leaf in the air and watching it fall slowly to the ground or balancing sticks to make a structure are two of many ways children are learning science concepts through outdoor play.

How is outdoor play beneficial to my child’s development?

Preschool aged children balance on rocks to develop gross motor skills during outdoor play

Playing outdoors is not only filled with learning opportunities but is important to a child’s overall development and well-being.  

Gross Motor Development

Refers to the development of large muscles, the muscles responsible for helping us to walk, run, crawl, jump, throw, climb and even write. There are no limits when children play outside and they can run as fast as they want and jump as high as they can without worrying about a lack of space.

Cognitive Development

Children are exposed to different scents, textures, and spaces than when they play indoors – encouraging children to explore and ask questions. Children will touch and smell different objects outdoors to find answers to their questions.

Physical & Mental Health

Outdoor play has proven health benefits for children. Active play, especially, is great for both physical and mental health and has even been linked to better sleep patterns.

Tips for playing in any weather

In both the cold and heat it’s still fun to get outside, but you’ll need to pay extra attention to how you play. Here are some tips on how to stay safe in the hot and cold weather. 

Two photos of toddlers and preschoolers engaging in outdoor play during the summer and winter

Wear weather-appropriate clothing

Winter clothing should include a winter jacket, snow pants, boots, a hat and gloves when playing outside in the cold.  Summer clothing should be made of lighter fabrics and a hat should be worn to help shield from the sun. Remember to wear sunscreen to protect your child and yourself from the sun in both winter and summer.

Take breaks

Play in 20-30 mins intervals (or an amount of time that works for you and your child) outdoors and then take a break indoors to warm up or cool off until you’re ready to go back out again. If you’re playing outdoors but you’re not close to home, try to find a space with access to shade for frequent breaks from the sun.

Stay hydrated

Continue drinking water when playing outdoors (even in the winter) as children tend to be much more active outdoors and overexert themselves quickly.

Each season comes with new ways to explore! Here are some ways to stay active in the autumn.

How does learning happen during outdoor play?

An infographic about how outdoor play helps children develop a sense of belonging, engagement, expression, and well-being.

Source: How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, Ministry of Education, 2014

Do you have more questions about your child’s behaviour? You can email us at any time at [email protected] to ask us any questions you may have, get connected with an EarlyON Resource Consultant from Peel Children’s Centre, or just find a listening ear. Emails are not monitored 24/7, but we promise to get back to you.

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We are currently offering online, on-site, and outdoor family programs! Use Find a Centre to find a location near you and visit our Schedules page to see our full program calendar. We also offer free parenting workshops, Prenatal Classes, nutrition programs, and some programs in French, Mandarin, Punjabi and Urdu. We hope to see you soon!