Education is a broad term that encompasses a wide array of experiences and approaches. When we think of education, many may imagine a classroom scene with a teacher up front and attentive students seated at desks in neat rows.
But early education isn’t–and shouldn’t be–like other types of education. Children in the earliest years require hands-on learning, new experiences, and exposure to basic ideas that they will use to understand complex concepts later.
There is no better way to give kids the fun, engaging sensory immersion they need than by providing plenty of outdoor activities. Playing outdoors gives kids a chance to use every muscle, engage their senses, and explore the world around them.
While it’s likely every early childhood educator you meet will confirm the importance of outdoor activities in the pre-K years, there is a lot of research to back this up. This article will detail the benefits of outdoor play in the earliest years and why this type of learning is essential to school success.
Reach out to the dedicated educators at New Horizons Learning Center to discover more about outdoor play in pre-K, to set up a visit, or to register your little learner in one of our programs.
The Benefits of Outdoor Sensory Play
There are so many benefits to getting young kids outside. Here are some of the most significant perks of providing lots of outdoor sensory activities in the pre-K years.
1. Hands-on science
Kids in the pre-K years are naturally little scientists. They are curious and love to explore the world around them by touching, tasting, feeling, smelling, and hearing new things. Reading books about science and nature is great–but getting out into nature is even better.
When kids are outdoors, they can use their senses to discover new ideas. For example, instead of reading or watching a show about how a plant grows, they can actually see a seed sprouting in the ground. They can touch plants, smell herbs and fresh dirt, and even taste edible vegetation (with grown-up supervision and permission, of course).
Immersing children in the outdoors provides so many ways to connect with nature and learn about how the world works.
Something exciting happens when you put a group of kids outdoors: they naturally begin to work together. Kids may ask others to help them build or dig, or they may eagerly show their peers something they’ve noticed.
Kids often become more emotionally regulated when outside, which can translate to better collaboration and communication.
3. Better health
Being outdoors is essentially the opposite of being passive in front of a screen, where modern kids spend most of their time. Having plenty of outdoor sensory play can lead to considerable improvements in strength, body composition, sleep, and emotional health. Kids are naturally more active and have many opportunities to climb, run, roll, dig, and lift. They get sunshine, fresh air, and plenty of exercise–all without needing to be told what to do.
Education and recreation are often passive in our culture. Kids frequently sit at desks, in front of screens, or participate in organized activities and sports and have very little time to think and move freely.
Creativity blossoms when kids spend time outdoors. Instead of following guidelines or a routine, kids are encouraged to explore freely and test their own ideas. Kids often experience significant boosts in creativity and confidence when spending time outside–which can also translate to other areas of their lives.
Outdoor sensory activities are so important in the pre-K years because they provide essential life skills that children need to succeed in school and beyond. Parents can offer unstructured outdoor play time to ensure their children develop these skills and look for a pre-K program that prioritizes outdoor activity.
Incorporating Outdoor Sensory Activities in the Early Years
Getting kids outside can be challenging sometimes. In colder climates, caregivers must ensure their children are bundled up and safe in plunging temps and snow. In warmer areas, people must consider the equipment they’ll need–sunscreen, towels, bug spray, etc.–to keep their kids safe and comfortable as they explore the great outdoors. Parents may also feel like outdoor play simply doesn’t fit into a busy schedule of organized sports, naptimes, meals, and other everyday tasks.
But outdoor play time is essential in the early years–and it’s worth the time and preparation. Kids who play outdoors often have better balance and strength, more bodily awareness, longer attention spans, and better emotional regulation than kids who do not spend adequate time outdoors.
So, how can busy parents make sure their kids are getting enough of the outdoor time they need and crave?
Here are some simple ways to get your kids outside more often.
- Create a safe play area in your yard. Allow your children to play freely as much as possible.
- Visit local parks. Learn the names of local trees, plants, and animals.
- Go on nature walks. Let your child bring a small bag or container to fill with special natural items they find.
- Eat outdoors whenever you are able. Notice the changing weather, the color of the sky, and more.
- Encourage your child to read, draw, and play outdoors whenever possible.
- Learn about regional, state, and national parks near you. Plan a trip to visit them, if possible.
- Take your family time outdoors. Instead of visiting indoor locations on weekends or evenings, go for a walk or hike.
- Explore free or inexpensive outdoor activities, such as movies and music in the park, canoe or ski rentals, and farmer’s markets.
- Walk or bike to school or the store whenever possible.
If your children are pre-K aged, look for a preschool that offers plenty of outdoor activities. Look for a safe, engaging outdoor play area and ask how often they go outside. Young kids should have access to outdoor play at least once daily in all weather except extreme, dangerous conditions.
Learn More About Sensory Play
Outdoor play engages children’s senses and gets them excited about learning. At New Horizons Learning Center, we know the value of outdoor sensory play and prioritize it as part of our daily curriculum. Reach out to our admissions staff now to learn more about our programs or schedule a visit.