There are two basic reasons why outdoor play is critical for young children. First, many of the developmental tasks children must achieve (exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross-motor development) can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. Second, our children are spending more time watching TV and playing the computer and other electronic devices than playing classical outdoor games with neighborhood children and friends. Outdoor play creates a lifetime of memories for children and allows children to be children.
Outdoor play allows young children to learn a lot of things about the world around them. How does ice feel and sound? Can sticks stand up in sand? How do plants grow? How does mud feel? Why do we slide down instead of up? How do I make my tricycle go faster? How does the overhang of the building create cool shade from the sun? What does a tomato smell and taste like? What does a chrysalis change into? Do butterflies have to learn to fly? (Johnson, Christie and Wardle 1997-2013)
Much of what a child learns outside can be learned in a variety of other ways, but learning it outside is particularly effective and certainly more fun! In the outside playground children can learn math, science, ecology, gardening, ornithology, construction, farming, vocabulary, the seasons, the various times of the day, and all about the local weather. Not only do children learn lots of basic and fundamental information about how the world works in a very effective manner, they are more likely to remember what they learned because it was concrete and personally meaningful (Johnson, Christie and Wardle 1997-2013).
Outdoor play also helps children practice and master fine and gross-motor manipulative skills such as running, jumping, climbing, throwing, swinging, racing, yelling, rolling, hiding and much more. Outdoor play will also help develop children’s strengths and the development of their social/emotional skills, constructive play, sociodramatic play, and cognitive development.