Has your family enjoyed the outdoors lately? Autumn is the perfect season to enjoy outdoor time. As the weather begins to cool down in Phoenix, it’s wonderful to spend time as a family outside.
Playing outdoors offers so many benefits for young children. From gross motor development to a greater understanding of their senses, outside activities are a wonderful way to help children grow. Caregivers can support this development by knowing what to look for and intentionally supporting a child’s learning and development.
At the Playground
Playing outside encourages gross motor development. Gross motor skills involve the big muscle groups. Children develop gross motor skills by moving their bodies. Running, riding bicycles, and utilizing playground equipment all support gross motor skills.
Playgrounds are the perfect place for children to strengthen their large muscles. Climbing utilizes their leg muscles and their upper body muscles. Monkey bars or climbing walls are great for strengthening their arms. Hanging upside down may seem like fun play, but it also helps children develop balance.
How caregivers can support development at the playground: Do you find yourself helping your child tackle playground equipment before they’re ready to do it independently? It can be easy to lift a child up to show them how to use a new climber. But by stepping back and encouraging children to try things for themselves, caregivers can better support gross motor development. When you lift up a child instead of allowing them to try climbing, they aren’t using their big muscle groups. It’s also a safety concern. Children may develop a false sense of security and attempt skills they aren’t ready for physically. Instead of lifting the child, model how to use more challenging equipment and encourage them to try. You can always be nearby and serve as a “spotter” if the child is apprehensive while allowing them to try on their own.
On a Nature Walk
Taking time to walk and explore the outdoors offers children a chance to enrich their senses. Nature is full of sights, sounds, and smells for kids to discover. It’s also an opportunity for kids to learn to appreciate nature, instilling the value of protecting our natural environment.
When taking a walk outside, think of the ways your own senses are being engaged. Perhaps you hear a bird call or see an animal scurry along. Point those things out to your child and ask what they notice. This will also help increase their vocabulary.
How caregivers can support development on a walk: Plan your walks intentionally, with certain natural elements in mind. Think about a child’s sense of sight, sound, smell, and touch. How can you incorporate these things into your nature walk? Can you search for smooth or rough rocks along your route? Maybe you can count how many birds you see. Talk with your child about these things before leaving on your walk. This will add excitement and anticipation to your time outside.
Moving Their Bodies
Children need at least 60 minutes of vigorous movement each day. It’s increasingly difficult for families to fit in daily movement, especially with the distractions of screens. Intentional outdoor time is a great way to encourage children to move their bodies.
Some children need little encouragement to run and jump when they’re outside. Keep outside toys easily accessible, and they’ll be ready to go. For these kids, introducing new sports equipment like a Wiffle ball and bat, soccer balls, small basketball hoops, and bicycles will help them build basic athletic skills and increase their coordination.
How caregivers can encourage kids to move their bodies: Some children may be more reluctant to run around on their own. Adults can encourage these children by engaging in physical movement together. Simple games like chase and hide-and-seek can help them get moving. You can also throw a ball around. Young preschoolers may be content to chase after a ball that you throw, while older kids may enjoy playing catch. Riding bikes together as a family is another fun way to get moving.
How does your family like to enjoy the outdoors?