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Outdoor play and its importance in the early years

Kid Looking at Plants — Early Learning in Highfields, QLD
At Highfields Child Care Centre, we understand how important it is to provide children with opportunities to connect with the natural environment. Exploring and learning outdoors is a vital and enriching part of every day.

Time spent outdoors with nature is proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue and make you happier, kinder, and more creative. You experience this first-hand when you tend a garden, stroll through a leafy park, or turn your face to the sun on a cool winter morning. In the words of author Florence Williams: “The more nature, the better you feel”.

The outdoors is the greatest classroom and is no more evident than in early childhood. With an ever-growing amount of research, it has been found that outdoor learning can advance a child’s development in several crucial areas, including:

Cognitive Development And Academic Performance

  • Simply being outdoors stimulates brain development.
  • With daily exposure to natural setting’s comes an increase in children’s cognitive abilities and concentration.
  • It has been found that learning in a natural environment can enhance a child’s critical thinking and problem solving, and improve academic performance in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

Mental Health, Self-Regulation And Improved Behaviour

  • There is an association between high quality outdoor environments and more constructive play.
  • Being in green spaces reduces mental fatigue – just seeing nature can decrease anger, aggression and fear.
  • Children who spend time playing outdoors are more likely to take risks and seek adventure, developing their self-discipline and self-confidence.
  • A natural, outdoor setting engages children in meaningful opportunities, encouraging them to cooperate, negotiate and collaborate with others.
  • It has been found that contact and interaction with nature during childhood helps to shape interest in environmental professions and a lasting environmental ethic.

Physical Activity, Nutrition And Gross Motor Skills

  • Children have the opportunity to use their bodies in vigorous ways to sustained periods when playing outdoors.
  • It has been found that children who play outside are generally more fit and show significant improvements in their motor skills, such as better coordination, agility and balance.
  • The connection with nature and the opportunity to grow their own foods promotes healthy eating habits throughout their lives, with children more likely to eat fruits and vegetables.

Despite research showing the countless benefits of outdoor play in early childhood, changes to social and environmental factors are resulting in children spending less time outside than ever before. In a 2018 study of 500 Australian families, it was found that one in three children did not spend time outdoor more than twice a week. The study also revealed 71 percent spent less than an hour a day outdoors.

Highfields educators understand the importance of outdoor play and the pivotal role it plays in a child’s health development and wellbeing. We are so passionate about creating meaningful occasions for children to enjoy and explore the natural environment around them.

Informed by the Reggio Emilia approach, which sees the environment as a child’s ‘third teacher’ (behind parents and educators), Highfields Child Care Centre is purpose-built to invoke curiosity, discovery and engage all senses. Our outdoor playscapes highlight the natural beauty around us, with lots of plants, trees, flower and herb gardens, all of which are thoughtfully integrated into our learning resources.

The Outdoor Classroom

Here are just a few of the creative ways the Highfields team facilitate children’s learning outdoors*:

  • Alfresco dining. We use mealtimes as a chance to slow down, nourish our bodies and enjoy time with each other in peaceful, natural surroundings.
  • Alfresco sleeping. Time outside promotes relaxing, so we like to set up the children’s cosy sleep space to elevate rest time to new levels of relaxation! Weather permitting, children can be lulled into dreamland by the calming sounds of nature in a comfortable shaded area.
  • Building dens, shelters and sunshades. We have various pop-up gazebos or dust sheets, doona covers and saris to construct incredible outdoor, shaded learning hubs.
  • Water play. While water play is heaps of fun, it also improves a child’s hand-eye coordination and dexterity and is a great chance to introduce concepts such as buoyancy and volume.
  • Unstructured outdoor play. While we have lots of planned outdoor activities, we know that children need the freedom to run, jump, skip and roam! Free time allows kids to follow intrinsic curiosities and grow, admiring nature’s rhythms and abundant gifts. It is perhaps the great delight of all.

*We take sun safety seriously at Highfields Child Care Centre. Sun protection, including hats and sunscreen, are compulsory for all outdoor activities. Our educators take extra care to make sure that children are always kept hydrated and cool.