Outdoor play and exploration is an important part of childhood. It allows children the freedom to be adventurous, move freely, let off steam, and just be kids. According to the Wildlife Trusts’ Every Child Wild report, children are happier, healthier, less stressed and more creative when they’re connected to the natural world.
Modern lifestyles mean that kids are spending a lot more time indoors, and city living can make it hard to find places where children have the space and freedom to run, jump, and make a noise. The good news is that even just being close to nature can make a difference. Children who live up to a kilometre away from a green space are happier and more upbeat.
The better news is that while green is great, any time spent exploring and playing outside is good for kids, and with a little creativity, you and your child can come up with fun activities to engage kids (almost) all year round. Let’s head outside and turn the world into their playground!
In the garden
A garden is the perfect place to let children explore and play in a free, unstructured way while they’re still in your view. Allowing children open-ended, free play outside gives them the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. A box becomes a race car, a tree trunk becomes a fairy’s house, and mud becomes primordial slime hiding dinosaur fossils. Old boxes and sheets can be turned into pretend play pirate ships, or a picnic site for teddies. Or your child can simply lie back, stare at the sky, and ponder all those important questions children ask (like why don’t we float off into the sky, or why is the sky blue?).
A garden is also ideal for structured play and exploration. Encourage outdoor imaginative play with a dinosaur hunt. Your child could dress up in safari gear, grab a magnifying glass or binoculars and hunt for dinosaurs. You could even hide some toy dinosaurs around the garden.
Explore sensory and messy play
Even a small outdoor garden area can be turned into a haven for sensory exploration and play. Wind chimes, streamers, windmills, and bubbles let kids investigate the effects of wind. You could take your child on a blindfolded discovery walk – tell your child to close their eyes and describe what they can hear, smell and touch. And there’s nothing like letting your child get stuck in with digging, raking, and planting to teach them about how things grow. For a kid-friendly guide to gardening, read more about how to get your garden ready for growing vegetables here.
Nothing beats good old messy play, and water play is an ideal way to let kids make a splash (and learn a lot along the way). Create a sensory pond in a water table using insect and aquatic counters and sensory materials such as sponges, sticks, stones, and sand. Use alphabet and number sand moulds to improve letter and number recognition. Pour and mix liquids of different colours and consistencies at the water table using jugs and stirrers.
In your neighbourhood
Not having access to a garden doesn’t mean your child has to miss out on outdoor play opportunities. A paved area can be turned into a play area with pavement chalk. Kids can draw a hopscotch game or simply draw and colour. Why not trace around each other and draw amazing butterfly wings? A downpour or quick spray with a garden hose will wash the surface clean, ready for more creative fun.
PS. Even simple activities like jumping in puddles after the rain or flying a kite on a windy day are fun reasons to head outside and play.
In the park
Jumping, climbing, swinging and hanging on playground equipment is not only fantastic for kids to burn off pent-up energy, these activities help develop gross and fine motor skills. A trip to the park can also be a fun learning journey. Download and print our free nature spotting activity sheet and take it with. These kinds of activities help encourage observation skills and inspire a love of nature. You’ll finds lots more activity sheets and ideas here.
Toys that encourage outdoor play and exploration:
- GeoSafari® Jr. Bug Viewer Jar: Ideal for catching and watching six- and eight-legged critters! (Don’t worry parents, there are airholes to let insects breathe!)
- Jumbo Dinosaurs Set 2: These prehistoric pals are perfect for hiding in the garden and creating a mini dinosaur park. Or use them to make pretend fossils using by pressing them into salt dough. This guide from SEN Resources blog shows you how.
- New Sprouts® Camp Out!: Pretend campfire? Check. Lantern? Check. Hotdog? Check. Camp out just like a grown-up with these pretend play toys.
- GeoSafari® Jr Subscope™: Peek under water with this real working science tool for young kids. Children can check out ponds, streams, lakes, rockpools and more. Even the bird bath in your garden.
- GeoSafari® Jr Kidnoculars™: Ready for an outdoor adventure, these kid-tough real working binoculars are ideal for ages 3+.
- Primary Science® Jumbo Magnifiers: These child-safe magnifying glasses are perfect for curious young explorers.
Learning Resources has loads more ideas to keep your child entertained and learning through play this summer. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because we have more activities and fantastic prizes up for grabs!