Playing outside is how our children learn about the natural world they live in while also developing their creativity and motor skills. In the age of digital media we are all so easily entertained with little to no effort. This can make it challenging to encourage our children to play outside where imagination is key and entertainment is created by them instead of for them. But there are some things we can do to not only make it less of a struggle to get our kids to play outside but make it so they desire it! It starts with creating an enticing age-appropriate environment for them to play in that is also beneficial for their development.
Sensory Play areas:
Ignite your child's senses and create an outdoor play space that will encourage them to explore their natural environment by tapping into their sight, smell, sound, touch and taste:
Plant flowers/herbs with strong fragrance around your children's play areas to entice their sense of smell and create a more pleasant play time. Plants/herbs such as, rosemary, mint, catmint, russian sage, chamomile, lavender, lilac, basil, cilantro, dill, alliums etc, give off a strong fragrance and some also provide beautiful blooms for sight as well. Kids love to explore through touch so be prepared that the flowers will be picked (maybe even for you ♡). If it causes you stress to think about your flowers being picked, we can totally relate! We suggest having a separate garden that is just for you and allow this one to be your childs for however they choose to explore it.
Help children develop their fine motor skills with hands-on learning, so make sure to add a variety of materials with different textures to the outdoor play space for your child to explore. You can include rocks of different sizes and textures, sandbox, water station with water toys etc.
There are many different ways to incorporate sound in your child outdoor play area, it can be man made sounds such as wind chimes or outdoor instruments, or you can even rely on natural sources such as using a bird bath/bird feeder to attract songbirds or plant trees that make beautiful noises when the wind travels through the leaves.
Vegetable gardening is a great way to teach kids about sustainability and growing your own food all while tapping into their sense of taste, not to mention that the best fruits/veg are the ones picked right off the stem (make sure they’re clean first ;) ).
This is the easiest to achieve because if you are outside you are already stimulating your sense of sight with the beauty of the outside world. The outdoors is full of colour and great scenery that can’t be replicated on our screens but there are also ways you can enhance the space around your backyard to make it appear more visually exciting to your kiddos, such as, including lots of trees, colourful gardens, pathways and structures for them to explore.
Natural spaces that will provoke imaginative play:
Imagination is a kid's biggest strength (if we allow them the opportunity to exercise it regularly) therefore it helps to have an exciting and visually interesting environment for them outside to let their imagination run wild. Here are some way you can achieve this:
Forts/ playgrounds surrounded by nature:
It goes without saying but kids love forts and playgrounds especially when they are surrounded by lots of natural elements such as trees, rocks and gardens to help spark their inner nature explorer. Whether it’s a wood structure in a tree, or a playground that leads you into a perennial garden. Location is key by promoting them to connect with nature while supporting imaginative play.
Using natural materials to create a play area:
Sometimes the most exciting play areas are the ones that are built from the raw materials you find out in the wilderness instead of the classic plastic playhouses. It could be an obstacle course/playground made out of large tree trunks or boulders. Or you can even transform your landscape to have an incline complete with a slide. The simpler materials are more visually interesting and its unstructured design leaves the equipment open for kids to use their imagination and gives them the perfect opportunity to participate in unstructured play.
Setting up an intriguing outdoor playspace for your kids can be very simple when you stick to the basics…
- Keep the setup and materials open-ended to allow children the opportunity to use their imagination and strengthen their ability to create their own entertainment.
- Children are drawn to order. Tidying the playspace after each use will entice them to pull it apart and explore all over again later (get your kids involved in the clean up too!).
- Playing outside is an awesome way for them to build confidence by learning about their bodies and their capabilities. Having access to appropriate risk helps them learn what their limits are.
- Children are inherently driven to explore cause and effect. There are so many possibilities to explore this concept outside.
Hopefully these ideas get the creative juices flowing so you and your family can have an awesome summer spent outside in nature.