Let's play for the summer!

In summer we all want to be outside!  So, let’s talk about outdoor play and why it’s so important for our children.

Play is essential to a child’s healthy development.  Children learn through play, which takes several forms.  Outdoor play encourages the development of physical skills, cooperation, language, and more.  Moral development occurs as children are often more vocal while physically active, and can learn socially acceptable and unacceptable language or behaviours.  Here are some ideas to boost playtime in the summer.

Rakes, shovels and buckets!  Doing some gardening?  Between 1 and 2 years, babies become toddlers, and they just love to imitate adults, and 2 to 3 year old youngsters want to help you with everything!  Give your toddler little gardening tools which they can easily manage, and some simple tasks they can handle.  You can give them plastic containers and a wooden spoon or purchase child-sized tools and they will happily copy you by your side.  Your toddler learns vital fine motor skills, as well as getting a sense of accomplishment from the independence, which builds confidence and a sense of self. Planting seeds and waiting for vegetables is a long and difficult process for a toddler to understand, but by letting them help at every stage, the end result will be a reward for them too.  Take photos of your child doing different things as well as the stages of the plants as they grow, print them off, stick them on poster board in sequence and your child can see the process as it unfolds and look back on it when summer is over while you enjoy the flowers, fruits and veggies of your labour!

Climb, crawl and catch!  Outdoors in a safe space is the ideal opportunity for young children to develop their physical, or gross motor skills.  Toddlers love to throw and kick balls of all sizes, and as they get older, they want to learn to catch them too. Positive reinforcement from adults is very important for building self esteem while learning a new skill, and typically children will want to repeat a new skill over and over, with tons of encouragement. Young ones will love to simply jump in the air with feet together, and later jump off a small rock or bench.  Helping them learn these skills encourages better coordination and lets them be safer as they grow and take more risks.  Climbing and swinging at the playground are vital to strengthen muscles and improve coordination, as well as learning social skills by waiting turns and interacting with other children.

Sticks, stones and dirt!  Out for a hike? Preschoolers can enjoy all kinds of play on the trails.  Apart from learning about our beautiful environment, they have a wonderful opportunity to explore and pretend, create and imagine! Help your kids find sticks, rocks, leaves and lichens and they will love to create something from them.  From a magic wand to a mixing tool, a simple stick can be the start of a story filled with fantasy and fun.  Scavenger hunts can be enormously educational, but how about making a scrapbook after the hike instead?  Use items you picked up along the way; a special seed or cone can be stuck in the book or drawn, a band aid wrapper to remind them of the scrape they had and how they felt, a drawing of who they pretended to be when playing in the forest.  With a few simple written words from you, your child can make a story book of their day which they can enjoy again and again.

Spray, sprinkle, and don’t forget the bubbles! On hotter days put the sprinkler on, and bring out the bubbles.  Give young children buckets and bath toys to play with water outside and watch them learn - physics! For example, children figure out that if you put a block in to a bucket full of water, some of the water spills out. When you pour water from one container to another, you need to do it slowly so that the water goes where you want it to. These experiences, through trial and error, help young children to understand the way everyday things work.  This is essential for healthy cognitive development, to think, remember and problem solve.  Water is an ideal ‘toy’ to observe the laws of physics and it’s SO much fun! Also, bring out the plastic cups and plates; if there’s a container of sand nearby or bits and bobs collected on a hike, dinner and tea will soon be served.  Pretending to make tea and serve food with real or child-sized ‘real’ items, children are learning what it’s like to be you, an adult, and practicing all sorts everyday skills.  These activities provide ample opportunity to learn language, too.  If you encourage conversations like “what did you make for dinner?” you can help your child think about the words related to food and food preparation.  You can introduce new words; “did you roast the potatoes? Roast potatoes are made in the oven.” Just like reading a new book, your child will be hearing and later practicing new vocabulary during play.

Have fun playing this summer, kids and grown ups!