Blog 4: Outdoor Play At Acorn we’re very keen on outdoor play and learning, but why is it so important for children to spend time playing outdoors? There are so many reasons, it’s hard to know where to start. Young children are fascinated by screens and gadgets, but children learn best by sensory experiences, and natural environments, outdoors, offer a wealth of opportunities for every aspect of healthy development, not just physical, but also for their emotional and intellectual development. What’s in a word? Let’s take a simple example, of the word ‘leaf’. When children learn to read and write they learn that ‘leaf’ becomes ‘leaves’ in the plural, but what image does the word conjure up? And if you ask ‘what colour is a leaf?’ will they answer ‘it depends on what time of year it is?’ A fresh young leaf in spring is a completely different sensory experience to the gorgeously crunchy rainbow of leaves in Autumn, and leaves themselves come in so many different shapes and sizes. Apart from being fun to play with and fascinating to examine closely, they are also a source of puzzlement which is great for stimulating children’s curiosity. You don’t need to be able to explain the wonders of photosynthesis, but learning about the way trees ‘breathe’ and how they help make our world a healthier place to live in can be the start of an understanding of science. STEM – what’s that got to do with outdoor play? Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are all areas of learning for outdoor activities in the early years. Mud is a wonderful resource for learning about chemistry - what happens when you combine water and soil, and how different temperatures affect its consistency and texture. Mini-beasts, plants and trees offer an introduction to biology, and there is a great deal of physics and engineering involved in creating dens in the woods, building bridges across streams, and using pulleys to transfer buckets of conkers (for example). It’s learning at its most absorbing – challenging, engaging and absorbing, and forest school campfires are the most thrilling way to learn about health and safety! Behaviour is rarely a problem at forest school – there are no arbitrary rules, only rules that everyone can easily understand are there for everyone’s safety. An answer to nature deficit disorder Richard Louv’s book, ‘Last Child in the Woods’, is a plea to give children a more free-range childhood. Many children don’t have enough physical exercise in today’s society, and there are many well-researched benefits for children who spend plenty of time outdoors, including better eyesight development and vitamin D absorption. Most parents of children will also recognise the difference in children’s appetites and ability to sleep after a day with lots of outdoor fun and games. First-hand experience of the different seasons and all types of weather is also a valuable learning opportunity. Adults may not like the rain, but muddy puddles are a source of great fun for children, and a muddy bank is the best slide of all (providing they’re wearing appropriate clothing!) Children also have the best opportunity for social interaction outdoors. They can co-operate in games and activities, there are ample open-ended resources for sharing, and there is space to choose where they want to be, and play together or alone. Milton Keynes – a green city We’re very fortunate in Milton Keynes, with parks, lakes and green spaces covering 20% of the city. There are over 5,000 acres of parkland, rivers, lakes and woodland, and over 22 million trees! Useful websites to find out more are www.theparkstrust.com and www.miltonkeyneskids.com but why not just head outside, wrapped up for the weather, and see what you can find in your local area? Just being outside is good for you, and it’s not just good for children, they also LOVE it!