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Outdoor activities are essential for children’s development. However, according to recent studies we spend up to 90% of our time indoors. Children are engaging in less time outdoors mostly due to focus on structured academic oriented activities, overuse of screen time and decrease in safe and inspiring outdoor environments. In return this is restricting their exposure to fresh air and daylight vital for their well-being. Moreover, it is triggering a string of problems affecting their physical and mental health. Let’s discover how to take this indoor generation back to nature with some creative and inspiring outdoor activities.

Benefits of engaging in outdoor activities

Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) places high importance in encouraging children to play outside. Outdoor activities are strongly valued for the positive effects they have on children’s well-being. The simple yet essential perks of ‘taking it outside’ can be summarized as below.

Improves physical strength and resilience

A key part of outdoor play is the element of physical exercise. Children have the space and freedom to move around, work off their energy and develop a sweat. Through physical outdoor activities they can improve their speed, strength, stamina and motor skills. This in return also supports the improvement of their self-image, self-esteem and an awareness of their own body.

Supports embodied learning

Embodied learning is when movement or physical activity promotes intellectual growth. When children engage in outdoor activities they explore and interact with the outside world. They engage with their environments, contact with external reality and learn through touch. On one hand, this fuels their curiosity and interest to learn more. On the other hand this significantly impacts how children learn directives, acquire abstract ideas and make sense of the world. Therefore, outdoor activities directly support children’s brain development.

Develops holistic and creative thinking

An undeniable element of outdoor play is the appreciation for nature it nurtures in children. Studies have shown feeling connected to nature to promote holistic, creative and innovative thinking. When encountered with a challenge in nature, even as simple as climbing a rock, it doesn’t just prompt you to overcome the problem. It also makes you understand the environment and how it works. This is key to helping children understand the importance of protecting the nature.

Promotes mental health

Outdoor activities allow children to enjoy fresh air, sunlight and the beauty of the world around them. They engage in more social interactions which develops empathy, collaboration and cultural competence. Moreover, playing in the sun is fun and makes us happy. Thus, outdoor activities also lead to a decrease in anxiety, depression and hyperactivity among children.

Things to be aware of when stepping outdoors

One of the main concerns adults share about children engaging in outdoor activities is their safety. Our neighbourhoods have become more busy with traffic and a decrease in safe areas to play in. Moreover, the thought of going outside when the weather takes a turn for the worse could be daunting. But here are three key tips drawn from Finnish ECEC to make your trip outdoors a little easier.

Be prepared

In Finland a common saying is “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Finland endures harsh winters for better part of the year, during which children are still encouraged to play outside. Thus, the importance of having appropriate wear for all weathers is something children are taught at an early age. It is important to remember that the outdoor environment is naturally more unpredictable than indoors. So when engaging in outdoor activities be prepared with the materials you may need from a raincoat to a bottle of water. Moreover, keep in mind that the weather can change.

Remember, safety first!

As discussed before the great outdoors could be unpredictable. So while being prepared it is also necessary to be extra safe. Depending on the outdoor activities selected this maybe as simple as remembering to wear a bicycle helmet. On the other hand it may entail ensuring children are weary of busy streets or deep lakes. If the activity, such as building a campfire to roast marshmallows, involves added risks it is mandatory to have adult supervision at all times.

Advocate responsibility

Use outdoor activities as an opportunity to teach children about how to protect the environment. Remind them not to disturb both manmade and natural creations they will encounter. Tell them not to harm animals even if they are as small as a ladybird. Insist that they do not break off flowers, leaves or any parts of a plant that is still attached. Ensure they dispose waste in the right way and avoid littering at all times. Encourage them to use what they can find on the ground such as sticks, stones and fallen leaves to play with.

Outdoor activities to inspire you this summer

Now that you are geared up for some fun in the sun, here are fours ways in which you can help kids take outdoor activities to the next level.

Play

Remember this is the great outdoors. You have more space and freedom to be loud, messy and get down with rowdy play. Encourage children to play freely using their imagination to create new games. This is an excellent opportunity to practice physical skills so use it generously. Invite your friends, family and neighbours to join in because what better way to have fun outdoors, than together!

Explore

Prompt children to engage in outdoor activities that make them explore their surroundings in a critical way. Go on a field trip. Get them interested in different types of animals and plants. Take time to smell the flowers, listen to the birds and spot clouds that are shaped like an octopus. Help them notice the patterns and sequences that occur in nature. Enable them to compare the scale of different elements in nature to their own body. This is a great lesson in the path to self-discovery, and developing an appreciation for all things great and small.

Create

Remind them that things they can scavenge are up for grabs. Help them build a fort or a contemporary piece of art on the ground. They can also help to construct something that has a practical functionality such as growing a vegetable or flower patch. The good news is things you can do outdoors will never run out because nature is ever changing.

Care

Engage in outdoor activities with the mission of making our surroundings better. Encourage children to plant trees, as well as water and care for the plants they grow. Moreover, take on mini projects of planting specific trees which will attract butterflies, bees, birds, squirrels and perhaps even a few raccoons. Help them understand the importance of pollination and conserving wildlife. Organize clean your neighbourhood events which can include fun sorting games, mini competitions, ice cream and lemonade. Whichever outdoor activities you engage in this summer with your little ones, make sure to have plenty of fun!

References

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