The benefits of outdoor play

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”
Dr Maria Montessori

“I like being outside because…”
“…I like finding worms.”
“…I like to find millipedes and I watch them and see what they do.”
“…It’s fun and I like to be in the sunshine.”
“…I like pretending to cook.”
“…I like to see things like koalas.”
“…I like to run, climb and be with my friends.”

Research continues to show the numerous benefits of outdoor play and the value of time spent ’just being’. At the ELC, we look forward to continuing to utilise our beautiful newly landscaped nature play outdoor environment regardless of the cooler and wetter conditions we will experience over winter, with the provision of appropriate wet weather clothing from parents.

The ELC staff team have recently attended conferences and visited other Early Learning Centres who share the belief that outdoor play is vital to children’s development. Last weekend, Penny Kerr and Bettina Abram attended the International Association of Nature Pedagogy Conference with guest speakers Claire Warden, Adam Bienenstock, Doug Fargher and Wendy Lee.

The focus of the conference was to assist Early Years educators to:
• Develop a deeper understanding of nature pedagogy inside, outside and beyond the classroom.
• Develop a deeper understanding and the practical skills needed to make learning experiences in nature stimulating, creative and a non-negotiable element of teaching.

The conference was facilitated by Sarah Sutter, CEO of Nature Play SA, who tells us research shows that children are not spending enough time outside being physical and that children are being affected in a range of ways because of this. When children have the opportunity to connect with nature it has a very positive impact.

The message from Claire Warden, founder of Scotland’s first Nature Kindergarten, was that behaviours change in children when they are able to choose to be outside. The natural world enables all children to become independent and helps them understand their bodies and what they need in order to develop. Nature gives us the opportunity to develop our higher-order thinking skills.

Adam Bienenstock, award-winning consultant on design, construction, policy, risk and regulatory processes (his company, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, has designed and constructed over 700 playgrounds across the US and Canada) believes play is the highest form of research. Every child has the right to be masters and experts and they’re hard wired to be outside and do all the things they can do in nature. We as adults need to ‘get out of their way’.

Some of the research data shared at the conference indicated that outdoor play is beneficial to children due to:

Positive outcomes in the areas of physical health, cognitive functioning and self-control, psychological well-being, affiliation and imaginative play, and affiliation with other species and the natural world.
Literature Review Chawla, L (2015)
Benefits of nature contact for children, Journal of Planning Literature

Children who spend more time outdoors in nature are happier, healthier, stronger, smarter, kinder and more social.
White R. 2004 Young Children’s Relationships with Nature

Social Benefit – Natural Environments stimulate social interactions between children.
Moore 1986 Bixler, Floyd and Hammutt 2002

Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other.
Moore 1996

More data quoted says that

  • Resilience in children has dropped in direct proportion to their ability to assess and experience risk.
  • Children who play in natural settings have higher math and language scores.
  • There is a direct and positive correlation between contact with nature and  imaginative play.
  • Dirt and bacteria are required for the development of a healthy immune system.
  • This is the first time in history that we, as parents will potentially have longer lifespans than our children.
  • More nature = greater problem solving abilities.

For more information:
Nature Play SA Office
C/- Wittunga Botanic Gardens
Shepherd’s Hill Road
Blackwood SA 5051

Gay Illingworth
Director of ELC