For your child, the outside world is full of wonder and possibilities. So, it makes sense to use their curiosity as a way of teaching them a thing or two about the way life works.

Studies show that encouraging your toddler to play outside can lead to rapid growth in their fine and gross motor skills and is also a great way to help them blow off steam.

But what about other forms of learning? Can the outdoors help a child to develop stronger, more complex social and emotional skills? The answer appears to be an overwhelming yes. The playground, or any other outside space, is perfect for a range of activities that can shape and expand the vocabulary and communication skills of your child. At an age when children are learning to experiment with sound and touch, outdoor play is an essential part of this process.

Types of outdoor learning

Being outside can benefit your toddler in a number of ways. From the sight and sounds of the natural world to the words and ideas associated with them, the world is full of opportunities for learning. Here are just a few ways that the outdoors aids a child’s development:

  • Imaginative role play encourages creative expression, so your child can build confidence and nurture their creativity.
  • Action games link language with physical movement
  • Voice control helps children understand the difference between indoor and outdoor voices and how to talk in a variety of situations
  • Space management teaches children how to divide space and use different areas for different activities
  • Social skills, playing with others, learning to share and the idea of teamwork can all be practised through outdoor games
  • Descriptive vocabulary teaches children to identify weather, plants, animals and other outdoor elements.

How can you encourage this at home?

It’s easy to get things started, even when the idea of the school playground is a few years away. The back garden or local park can be the perfect landscape for a variety of educational activities, all of which allow you to get involved with your toddler. If you have access to toys and equipment then these can be a great way to get them out and about. Dress up, messy play (using water or mud) and role play all promote growth and learning in young children and are easy to set up on your back lawn.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous you can include a few more structured games. ‘Fill the bucket’, ‘twist ‘n turn (which also helps children recognise shapes) and scavenger hunts will all encourage the development of fine and gross motor skills, as well as cognitive skills, which help them think about and understand their surroundings.

As a parent, it is simply your job to help them out along the way. Introduce the idea of rules and safety to their outdoor play and ask them if they can think of ways to make sure these guidelines are kept to. By involving yourself in their games, you can work new words into their vocabulary and teach them to understand that everyone plays differently. Above all, you should let them guide you. Rather than interjecting whenever they make a wrong decision, let them figure it out for themselves and talk with them about how they might change what they did next time around.

So the next time you’re toddler has energy to burn, get them outside and let them begin learning through play.

More by Sam Flatman:

Independent vs Structured Learning
Why Pretend Play is Essential for Your Toddler
The Benefits of Playtime for Babies

Author Bio: Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing playgrounds for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. Sam believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which can be integrated into the school curriculum.

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