The importance of outdoor play cannot be underestimated and the benefits of learning in a natural environment are many. Researchers studying forest schools have found that outdoors children refine their motor skills, are more creative, have fewer conflicts as a lot of the play is collaborative. They stay healthier, learn to be more independent, understand how to assess risk and develop a compassion for nature and wildlife that is likely to last a lifetime. The benefits of outdoor learning are endless. Being outside allows children to express themselves freely. The sense of freedom being and learning outdoors brings is amazing for a child’s overall development.
By experiencing the seasons hands on children will develop an understanding and love for the natural world. Sometimes we just need some tips on how to use our local woods and parks, how to become lost in their magic and how we as adults can give the most needed gift, that of our time, that of inspiration and fun. Different times of the year pose different challenges and sometimes can be a barrier to going outdoors. As we move through Autumn into winter there are some amazing learning opportunities to be had.
The biggest consideration at this time of year is the types of clothes and footwear have on when you go outside. Hands and feet will feel cold without adequate socks, gloves, scarves and hats. Layer up, thinner layers are better than one thick one, this also means you can regulate your temperature more easily.
Take a drink and a snack, hot blackcurrant juice in a flask is ideal as children like it and if it cools down a bit you can still drink it. The physical exercise, fun excitement and challenges will make your children hungry. Healthy snacks will give them energy to continue on their adventure – and nothing is more exciting than a picnic in the woods!
Take different collecting containers, bags, buckets, sacks. Gathering is a natural instinct for children – and most adults as well, and connects us all to nature and encourages us to look closely at what is around us. Choose objects of the same colour, the same size, the same weight, because they have a unique feature, grade the colours. String tied with two sticks are a great way to collect leaves, Leaf Kebabs, tie a thin stick to one end of a piece of string and tie a thicker piece to the other end. With the thin stick stab leaves and pull them down onto the string, repeat until you have your kebab or leaf mobile.
Autumn is the time of year when the wind is picking up and the air is getting cooler. What could be a better activity than Leaf Play? The sensory benefits that can be found from a romp in a pile of leaves is endless. Leaf play is an excellent way for children to feel the various textures of smooth, rough, soft and crunchy. As they build the leaf piles they will learn the amount of pressure needed to push or pick up leaves. All of these simple activities will help children develop important fine motor skills which they will use as they get older for writing. Leaf play is also an excellent source of movement and activity that stimulates the sensory system. Jumping into the huge leaf piles, running into the leaves, and even throwing the leaves in the air, is not only fun and exciting, but also an extremely important part of developing your child’s sensory systems. A huge leaf pile is a great place to develop visual motor skills by playing look and find games and scavenger hunts. Leaf play provides opportunities for language development, fine motor development, and creative dramatic play. Not to mention the hours of fun!
In the winter we often get snow. Children love snow and often cannot wait to get outside to play with it. If children can experience snow first hand they can investigate its properties and learn whilst having fun and enjoying themselves. Snow gives unique opportunities for outdoor play and learning. It requires creativity, scientific observation and negotiation skills. Think of the creativity fostered as children build snow creatures and use various objects to decorate them. They learn the complexities of problem solving as they try to mould snow into different designs.
When friends play together, they learn social skills needed for negotiation as they come to understand how to take turns while sledging. These are not rules that are taught to them; they are spontaneously created by the group, and are likely to be internalised on a much deeper level. This is play in its organic form; experimenting, discovering, problem solving, negotiating, and creating all wrapped up with the emotion of joy.
Change the colour of the snow – Fill empty squeezable bottles (such as washing up bottles) with warm water and a few drops of food colouring. The children can then use them to write, make patterns and mark make in the snow.
Snow angels – in a clear space of snow and lie down, then move your arms and legs from side to side to create your angels.
Snowman – a must do creation when it snows but why stop at the traditional snowman, where else could our imagination take us?