Outdoor Play in all Weather and Natural Environments

By Melanie Love

Most of my fondest memories as a child involve playing outside. Being a mother of two young boisterous boys and working in Early Childhood Education, I’m fortunate to relive these wonderful memories and experiences.

Outdoor play is vital for the growth, learning and development of children. By providing children with opportunities to play outside, you are increasing their ability to grow and develop.  Playing outside gives children the chance to explore the natural environment and have adventures. Outdoor play can also mean more mess, and more mess often means more fun!

In the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, Learning Outcome 3 focuses on “Children having a strong sense of wellbeing”

In childcare, educators promote a sense of wellbeing by:

  • Planning physical activity with children, including dance, drama, movement and games
  • Providing opportunities to extend on children’s gross motor skills, through spontaneous and planned group experiences
  • Focusing on fundamental movement skills that teach children everything from the foundational movements, to more complex skills used in play, games and specific sports
  • Providing opportunities to play in all types of weather, be it rain or shine
  • Running an indoor / outdoor program throughout the day, offering children ample occasions to explore the outdoors

Within the outdoor learning environments, children can freely discover and develop their motor skills like running, leaping, and jumping. This is also the most appropriate area for the practice of ball-handling skills, like throwing, catching, and striking.

Outdoor activities not only enhance their motor skills, but also provide them with the chance to further utilise their sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

As Cheryl Greenfield (2004) said, ‘Outdoor play provides open-ended, dynamic, varied opportunities which are unpredictable and at times risky. However, the risks and challenges of being outdoors provide rich opportunities for learning, problem-solving and developing social competence.’

Wet or cold weather doesn’t mean you and your children have to stay inside. In fact, it is opportunities like these that your child will value and remember.

The next time it rains, why not take your children for a walk. With an umbrella and raincoat, they can watch the leaves float after the rain, and jump over or into puddles in gumboots. Wearing these over their normal clothes, the children can stay warm, safe and protected.

Ideas for you at home:

  • A nature walk is a great way to explore the natural environment. Why not discuss what you can see, hear, smell and touch. There are many wonderful textures to explore, such as leaves and rocks.
  • Put up a tent in the rain. This will allow you to keep dry whilst enjoying the soothing sound of water hitting the roof.
  • Create coloured rivers or ponds by adding drops of food colouring in puddles, or small trickles that appear.
  • Set up an obstacle course with old tires and tree stumps and act out “We’re going on a bear hunt”
  • Bring an old sheet outside and play parachute games by bouncing a ball on top.
  • Use your phone to record all the different sounds you hear. Listen to them later and try to recall those various sounds.
  • Bring outside a large paint brush and a bucket for water painting. This leave no mess as the water later evaporates.
  • And my favourite! Painting with mud or making mud pies. Why not collect leaves, flowers, gumnuts, sticks and other treasures to decorate those delicious pies.

Rain or shine, there are plenty of outdoor learning opportunities for your children- both in childcare and at home. So go outside, get dirty, and have fun!

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