The Importance of Outdoor Play for Young Children

Do you know the importance of outdoor play for young children?

Everyone knows that computers, laptops, phones and tablets are becoming a bigger part of our lives. How does this change how we live though? We took a few minutes to consider the impact of these changes on our children.

The speed at which technology is developing is having a profound impact on our children and it is interesting to compare their childhood experiences with those of the previous generation.

“10% of children play in the natural environment compared to 40% of adults when they were young”
England Marketing (2009) Report to the Natural England on childhood and nature: a survey on changing relationships with nature across generations

This is a big shift in how children play and what they experience in their childhood years. The questions are –

How does this impact on their health, personal development and learning?
Why is it important for children to play outside?
Why is it important for children to have fresh air?

Health is impacted negatively by not getting enough exercise, leading to increasing rates of obesity in children and adolescents. Children are not playing outside as much as they used to, limiting their exposure to sunlight and thus the generation of vitamin D which helps to fight infection and keeps skin healthy. Sunlight also helps to regulate the production of melatonin which regulates sleep. Electronic devices emit harmful blue light, which can cause headaches and eye strain. Blue light in the evenings can even limit the production of melatonin, which in turn can make going to sleep very difficult for some children.

So what is the answer to this slippery slope that we find ourselves on… More time outside!

Early Years Resources offer a wide range of outdoor learning resources & equipment to encourage an active and healthy lifestyle and enhance children’s development.

But, why is outdoor education so important?

With such a lot of time spent at school there is a real opportunity to take these important learnings and increase the options for children to learn and play in the outdoors. Ofsted are in agreement that more time outdoors is of benefit to pupils …

“When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development”
Ofsted (2008) Learning outside the classroom. How far should you go?

Despite this, a survey has shown that although “97% of teachers believed that schools needed to use their outside spaces effectively to enhance their pupils’ development, 82% did not agree that their own school was making as much use as it can of this valuable resource”

Learning Through Landscapes (2010) Research showing the benefits of outdoor play

So what can be done?

There are a lot of organisations who promote outdoor activities, such as Learning Outside the ClassroomThe Outward Bound Trust and The Woodland Trust. Many of these offer ideas for outdoor learning as well as courses for teachers and school resources to download.

In the UK, the weather can often be a barrier to taking children outdoors for regular lessons and it may be that the addition of school canopies or shade sails, may be just the thing to make sure that your school is not depending on the British weather to get the children in the fresh air.

Imagine a school campus with a custom built outdoor sheltered learning space, which is ready to use every day of the year! What a fabulous way to make sure that your children make the most of the natural world and all the benefits this can bring.

These can take the shape of Umbrella style shelters, Tepees, Shade Sails or steel and polycarbonate school canopies. For a larger sheltered area, a covered MUGA would provide space for all year-round sports and learning activities outdoors. Perhaps a bespoke school canopy would be something to consider, these can be designed specific to the school and made to measure. Whatever the requirement, there will be a school canopy solution to help bring the benefits of outdoor learning to as many children as possible.

“Outdoor learning can benefit pupils of all ages and be successful in a variety of settings… [it] enriches the curriculum and can improve educational attainment”
Education and Skills Select Committee

Whether at school or at home it seems that the message is, help your children to get outside more, enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. The importance of outdoor play and learning for children’s overall health can not be underestimated.

To find out more about the importance of outdoor play for young children please visit the A&S Landscape website and see some of the case studies from schools we have worked with.