24 September 2019
By Beverley Johnston

Why outdoor play is so important

The benefits of working and playing outside are endless. For the majority of children, it is their favourite place to be; however it can be an under used area especially in the wet or cold weather. The benefits of accessing the outdoor area have been widely researched and published over previous years identifying the importance for children’s health and wellbeing which is why it is part of the EYFS statutory requirements ‘3.58 Providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or if that is not possible ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis’.

Importance of outdoors
Going outside provides opportunities for all children whether this is gross motor or sitting quietly reading in a corner, but it is essential all children access the outdoor area.

Action for Children (2017) stated ‘Three big reasons why children need to play outside’ - these are to improve mental health, wellbeing and self-confidence, to promote physical activity and battle obesity, and to improve sleep patterns. Studies show a link between outdoor activities and significant improvements in psychological and emotional wellbeing in children. Let’s explore the medical science about why we should go outside, all year round…

  • Cortisol 
    Connecting with nature reduces levels of cortisol (stress hormone). Children can create cortisol in busy environments, through what they consider pressured learning environments and from flashing screens or equipment

  • Serotonin 
    This is the ‘feel good’ hormone which improves people’s moods and brain activity which can lead to improved attention spans according to Korb (2017). One way to obtain more serotonin is through exposure to sunlight

  • Melatonin 
    Is a hormone usually associated with sleep. Melatonin is the natural hormone your body secretes that helps to maintain a wake-sleep cycle. The wake-sleep cycle is the process of sleep and wakefulness. The amount of natural sunlight a child is exposed to will influence their levels of melatonin.

Create healthy choices for children
Through discussing and offering opportunities to young children to access outside, we are paving the way for them to understand and appreciate the importance of being outside. This early education is critical to changing attitudes and preventing the increase of obesity in the under-fives.

Benefits for staff wellbeing
All the points mentioned above also go for staff too and supports their wellbeing. The importance of accessing the outdoors is not just for children but adults too. What barriers do you think there are to going outside?

Whatever the weather?
Yes, we should go out in all weathers. The wonderful thing about weather is it provides a great learning opportunity, what better way to experience it, than by being in it. We know most children are active, kinaesthetic learners and a ‘what’s the weather today?’ board does not meet this style of learning.

Most children love the rain and snow and exploring its properties, especially on their tongue! Feeling the cold or ice on their faces is a real sensory experience and will ignite their curiosity and learning for the natural environment. As with all activities they need to be risk assessed to ensure children and adults are kept safe.

Activity Ideas
Ideas to involve children and adults in outdoor play not only benefit the learning but everyone's wellbeing too.

Family Partnerships
Share with the whole family the benefits for everyone. Start by showing parents/carers around the setting and stressing the importance of going outside and how it benefits their child and why as a setting you will go out in all weathers. As a setting you can share ideas that they can do at home, as you know their home environment best you can suggest whether this is in the garden, park or walking to and from places.

Final thoughts for reflection

  • Can you build upon your parent partnerships?
  • How do you value outdoor play and its importance on children’s wellbeing?
  • Does the setting need to explore training to promote staff to use the outdoor area more?
  • What opportunities and barriers are there for all children to use the outdoor area?

Threads of Success offers a range of training opportunities to support providers to promote and strengthen outdoor play, visit our pages to find out what is available to you.

References
Pentagon play (2017) Action for children article 
Korb.A. (2011) Psychology today: Boosting your serotonin activity