With the chill of winter settling in, it is timely to discuss the importance of outdoor play. During the cooler months, it is common for children to be restricted to indoor play at home, and only permitted to play outdoors when it is warm and sunny.
Many parents fear that their children will not “like” being outside in the cold, or that they will get sick from being outside in the cold fresh air. For this reason, it is particularly important that young children enjoy outdoor activities in their early childhood education service.
Playing outside in autumn, winter, and early spring, each present their own unique opportunities for exploration and learning. Therefore, outdoor play should be embraced in all types of weather, as it is crucial for children’s ongoing development.
The Most Common Winter Myth Dispelled
My child will get sick if they play outdoors in the cold
Most adults associate winter with getting colds and illnesses such as the flu. However, it is not exposure to the cold that cause these viruses. In fact, it’s likely to be increased exposure to poorly ventilated indoor environments, where bacteria and viruses live. By encouraging outdoor play in winter, children gain much needed exposure to fresh air and Vitamin D, while avoiding bacteria.
Why Outdoor Winter Play is Important
See the outdoors through a new lens
During the spring and summer, children become familiar with bright green foliage, flowers in bloom, and a warm climate. As the change in season, they come to see different characteristics in their environment, such as brown grass, fallen leaves, and ice.
These developments provide children with new experiences and opportunities, such as learning about the seasons, and the life cycles of plants. Through outdoor play in the winter, children also learn to see their environment through a different lens, and progress from being unconscious to conscious observers of their environment.
The physical health benefits of outdoor play
Playing outdoors in winter promotes physical development and well-being. This is because outdoor play encourages the use of the whole body by offering a safe space to run, jump, and exercise key muscle groups.
Through activities such as riding tricycles, swinging, and running, children increase their large muscle use. This increase in physical activity supports children’s gross motor development and overall health.
It is important that children remain active in the cooler months so that they continue to build emerging skills that are crucial to their physical development.
The emotional benefits of outdoor play
Outdoor activities also promote emotional health benefits, such as self-confidence, and the ability to assess risks. By encouraging outdoor play in the winter, children learn to identify hazards, such as slippery surfaces, and moderate their behaviour to ensure their safety.
Further, challenges associated with winter environments, such as icy leaves, and games played in fog, also provides children with new ways to develop their emotional skills. Through wintery games, children learn to explore, work together, and find harmony in endless problem-solving opportunities.
The social benefits of outdoor play
Finally, playing outdoors with others encourages social development and collaboration. This is because play teaches children how to work together in groups, which includes learning to share, negotiate, and solve conflict.
Social outdoor play also provides children the opportunity to exercise and stretch their imaginations. In winter, the physical changes to the outdoor environment provide children with new opportunities for socio-dramatic play, and winter-themed games.
Children who are encouraged to explore through play are also more likely to learn new skills and overcome challenges, which promotes self-confidence, resilience, and self-advocacy. The development of these social skills are highly important to the development of healthy social relationships, communication skills, and a strong sense of self.