FROM letting sand trickle through their fingers to watching a ladybird scale a leaf, the outdoor world opens up an entirely new multi-sensory environment for young children. Not only that, but outdoor play is a natural extension of indoor play and helps children with their physical, emotional and social development as they negotiate new terrain, become more independent and experience an invigorating sense of freedom to use their imaginations.
Being outside also helps children to understand and value the natural world because it stimulates their innate curiosity for exploration, observing plants as they grow, inspecting insects and learning about the seasons.
Childcare facilities are useful for teaching children about the world around them and exposing them to nature. Gillian Murphy, owner of Nourrice Creche and Montessori School, which is based outside Wexford Town, says that being outdoors naturally lends itself to a sense of wellbeing and fun for children of all ages.
" The role of childcare staff outside ranges from very simple supervision to the more complex facilitation of structured activities."
At Nourrice, she says the key to having a successful outdoor programme lies in getting the balance between just allowing children to enjoy the freedom of being outside and helping them develop their gross motor skills and learning in a non-competitive manner.
One approach that Murphy and her childcare team find beneficial is preparing children before they go outside.
"If we are going to do a structured activity, we talk about it before they go out so they understand what the aim is and that gives them a real sense of purpose."
She says Nourrice has an extensive outdoor programme, which is helped by the fact that the creche is situated on two acres of landscaped gardens.
" We go out every day, weather permitting. The older kids keep wellie boots here in the creche and their activities include gardening, sand and water play, fishing in the pond, which is fenced over with mesh, sports and nature walks.
" We also have mulch, tarmac and grass. They can go in around bushes and pick up mulch and go digging for worms and examine snails. They have wheelbarrows, which they use in the sand."
Babies and wobblers have their own patio area just outside their room, while they go to the lawn in the summertime so they experience a different texture and surface.
One activity the kids really enjoy, according to Murphy, is gardening. " They love putting their wellies on and using a shovel. They go out to see if their buds have come up.
"It's just getting kids out as much as possible. Safety is a huge concern when you are caring for other people's children, but you have to find a balance between having a safe environment and stifling their desire to push themselves to experiment.
"Our policy here is good staff ratios, with the staff giving direction where it's necessary, and having child-proof boundaries in the outdoor area and safe equipment – these are key requirements," she affirms.
Murphy says that there is a marked difference in their temperament once the children go outside.
" They just release a huge amount of energy, both positive and negative. They sleep better at nap time if they have been outside that morning, their concentration span is definitely better and the atmosphere is so much calmer in the creche."
Murphy says boys in particular benefit from being outside because if they can't go out they will often get rid of their excess energy by getting louder and doing all of their outdoor activity inside.
It's very rare for a child not to get animated at the mere mention of going outside, even from the age of 12 months, she adds.
" Everything just catches their attention outside. You could have six kids squatting down and looking at leaves or insects. Even their voices are more expressive when they are talking about the outdoors."
Being in the outdoors helps with every aspect of a child's development from their physical, emotional and gross motor development to progressing their co-ordination and fitness levels, she explains.
" From an intellectual point of view, children are learning all the time through that innate curiosity they have. Also the natural beauty in nature enables them to experience happiness. Socially, they interact differently outside. Even if it's louder and more rough and tumble at times, they are much more tolerant of each other as well. Kids who are quieter also tend to come out of themselves."
Murphy argues that some outdoor time should also be dedicated to helping children develop their motor skills through structured activities, but she says it's vital to allow children have some free play so they can use their imaginations.
" It's just getting kids out as much as possible. Safety is a huge concern when you are caring for other people's children, but you have to find a balance between having a safe environment and stifling their desire to push themselves to experiment.
" Our policy here is good staff ratios, with the staff giving direction where it's necessary, and having child-proof boundaries in the outdoor area and safe equipment – these are key requirements," she affirms.
Mother & Babies