Watch your child flourish through more time outdoors

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For many parents, getting out the door feels like an Olympic sport. Even though you’ve been in training for weeks, months or even years it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, does it? Locating jackets, sun hats, extra snacks, those elusive drink bottles…and the keys, oh where are the keys!?

It’s definitely easier and often more comfortable staying indoors with little ones, especially during the winter. But have you noticed how getting outside can soothe the most disastrous day or grumpiest child (or parent)? We’ve been advocates of outdoor play since our inception. We’ve done the research, developed, refined and re-refined our outdoor programmes to provide maximum opportunities for the children in our care. 

And we’ve been blown away by the results we’ve seen. We know being outdoors improves children’s physical and mental health, they more easily reach their developmental milestones while their conservation awareness strengthens, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In this blog, we’ll share how getting outdoors will help your child (and the whole family) flourish. Enjoy a stress-free approach to outdoor-adventure-readiness with our handy tips and tricks and get the confidence and motivation to venture out no matter what the conditions. 

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Getting outdoors will turn that frown upside down!

It might look like a simple walk, play at the park, inspection of some rocks or a pause by the duck ponds but being outdoors provides our children with so much more than what we see as adults. There’s problem solving, imaginative and creative thinking, innovative thinking, maintaining concentration, working through their thoughts and ideas, peer cooperation, communication, collaboration, risk taking, confidence building, emotional regulation and even strengthening their eyesight. Increasing a child’s time outdoors also provides emotional stability and supports them through any changes in their lives.

Modern life, technological advances and perception of safety and risk have affected the amount of outdoor play our children have access to. The recommendation for children is to spend three hours outdoors each day. For some parents, this might seem like a lot or “another thing to do” in an already busy life. But with all the benefits listed above and our tips below, we know you’ll be keen to see some of the positive benefits more time outdoors will bring.   

How to build up your outdoor play time

Now that we understand the benefits of getting outdoors with our children, it might make it easier to prioritise. Find out how many hours your early childcare centre offers for outdoor play so you can add this in to your weekly total – remember you’re looking for about 21 hours outdoors each week (based on three hours a day). Obviously if your child is sick this will interrupt things and some days, life just gets in the way! Be kind to yourself, build time up slowly so it becomes habitual and you’re making long term, sustainable changes.

Don’t let the weather stop you
If it’s cold or raining don’t be put off - your child will find so much joy and learning in puddles and mud! Did you know that in Stockholm, it’s standard practice for parents to sleep their babies out in freezing temperatures and while the research isn’t conclusive, parents swear their children are less sick than those who sleep indoors. . Getting outdoors in all seasons and temperatures will change the outdoor experience entirely. Nature provides a diverse playground all year round!

Make sustainable change
Outside of the obvious playground visit or trip to the beach, a little and often approach works well to increase your child’s incidental time for outdoor play. Here are some smaller outdoor missions to consider when building those hours up.

  • A simple slow wander around the block can be enthralling for little ones. Let your child lead the way, taking your time to listen to what they’re noticing. Try and avoid interrupting their focus with your own agenda.

  • After breakfast, encourage children outdoors in their pyjamas while you clean up or get lunches ready. In winter there’s frosty grass to crunch, in summer there’s drippy dew to inspect and so much more!

  • Smaller babies can be placed out on a rug by themselves where you can still see them from indoors to gaze up at the sky or later on their tummies to feel the texture of the grass underneath them.

  • Before dinner (witching hour), encourage your children into the back yard for some more time. They could kick some balls around if they’re feeling pent up or have one last go in the sandpit.

  • A short walk to the mailbox, tagging along while you hang out the washing or simply hanging out on your street can provide great entertainment.

  • If children need extra encouragement, set them up with some loose parts like metal bowls, utensils and a bucket of water and they’ll go to town.

  • Make a habit of parking down the road from your child care centre and walking a few minutes along the street or through the park to get there – this provides a nice calming transition to the day for both parent and child.

  • Leave the battle of the car seat for another day and choose to walk, bike or bus rather than taking the car to day care or work today.

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Being prepared for the outdoors

It’s true what your Mum said, preparation IS key. The more prepared you are, the more enjoyable your time will be and the more easily things will just flow. You’ll also stay out longer because you have everything you need.

Keep these things in your car all the time:

-      A big bag that includes a wet bag for wet clothes, a warm change of clothes, a container or two for any food purchases, cutlery for any takeaway food orders, a first aid kit, a spare nappy, a couple of old towels, a face cloth, sunblock, hats and a picnic blanket.

On the day you’re heading out, grab:

-      Take away coffee cup, water bottles for you and your child, snacks/lunch for BOTH you and your child, a thermos with hot water/tea/coffee, nappy bag, warm clothing in case the weather turns. Balance bikes or scooters, front pack/pram. 

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Where to go and what to do

Connect with your local community, friend group or nature play group to find out if there are any new outdoor areas to explore in your town and try them all. Even if, through your adult eyes, you don’t see anything interesting at a particular park, your child will undoubtedly find something that captures their imagination.

Head off the beaten path
Explore the less obvious places as well. The Outdoor Kids Project recently compiled a list of often-overlooked but equally awesome outdoor spots your child will love. Some of these included local ports, quarries, garden centres and boat ramps.  

Activity focus
Other than child-led free play outdoors we can also incorporate some structured activities such as nature bingo, hide and seek, collecting seasonal treasures to take home, leaf art or collecting rocks to paint.

Add loose parts
Maximise your backyard space with some loose parts play. Items such as planks, tyres, seeds, wooden cable reels, clothes pegs, baskets etc can often be sourced for free and your child will spend hours and hours pottering away.

More inspiration for outdoor play
Outdoor play is diverse, providing endless opportunities to learn, grow and develop for children and parents alike – it supports our mental and physical wellbeing. We hope you enjoy some time outdoors together and in the meantime head to New Shoots, 1000 Hours Outside, Outdoor Kids NZ and Run Wild My Child for further inspiration.

  • Discover more about your child’s development here.

  • Find out what Neuroscience Educator Nathan Wallis says 3-7 year olds need to learn.

  • Tips for your child’s first 1,000 days.

If you’re interested in learning more about New Shoots centres, our website is a great place to start.
You can:

Find the centre nearest you

Contact us to organise a visit

Discover our curriculum, vision and foundation principles

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