When it comes to playing outside, there are serious benefits for your child. Outdoor play is crucial to the developing mind and body. Research shows it improves cognitive, social, and motor skills, yet studies also frequently indicate the American child is spending fewer hours not only in play, but fewer hours outdoors as well.
Being outdoors benefits each age in several ways, with benefits continuing to build as children get older. So while our outdoor activities may seem like pure fun (and they are that!), know that Sparkles! is using the latest research and best practices to build age-appropriate outdoor play into our curriculum. See how to “translate” that playtime into the developmental growth we are encouraging at each age level:
3 Months – 15 Months
- Offers a sensory explosion: Sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste (e.g., snow falling on the tongue)
- Improves motor exploration
- Strengthens the immune system and overall health
Sparkles! ensures infants have time to take in the world around them, with daily walks in our school buggy. At home, try outings to the playground, farmers market or even a walk around the block.
16 Months – 2 Years
- Improves independent learning
- Allows for creative exploration
- Improves gross motor skills, balance, and coordination
Beginning with toddlers, every classroom has an outdoor play schedule for both morning and afternoons. Children use the playground equipment, balls, hula hoops, and climbing areas. “The slide is the most popular playground equipment,” notes Sparkles! Crystal City Director. Ask your child which of our outdoor toys are their favorite and surprise them with one they can use in the yard over the weekends.
2 Years – 4 Years
- Develops proprioceptive and vestibular senses
- Cultivates spatial awareness
- Presents opportunities to witness cause and effect
Sparkles! has weekly waterplay for students. They love running around, getting wet, and playing with their friends! Pre-k students have additional fun through programs such as weekly walks to the park, gymnastics, or soccer. We have put together some water play ideas for parents to try with their children!
4 Years – 5 Years
- Enhances social skills, such as negotiation, compromise, and cooperation
- Advances motor skills, such as sequencing, timing, control
- Enables creative role playing
“Over the summer, the kids love gymnastics outdoors. The teacher is fun and energetic. We have upbeat music playing and it keeps them engaged the entire time. They look forward to it,” said Katie Vanderhoof, Sparkles! Fair Oaks Director. Invite your child to teach you some of their favorite gymnastic moves next time you are at the park.
- Improves academic performance through physical activity, including improved focus and concentration and an ability to better recall information
- Progresses conflict negotiation and leadership skills
- Reduces anxiety and stress
Sparkles! incorporates outdoor time in some lessons plans. For example, “They can do nature projects when outside. They’ll learn about trees, then go outside to collect leaves and make a collage,” said Vanderhoof. On your next walk around the block, have your child collect leaves and twigs for a craft project you can do together.
Outdoor Play’s Bottom Line
Outdoor play is important for social, cognitive, physical, and emotional development. Just a few reasons that our expert staff is experienced in encouraging creative outdoor play…which doubles as learning. Use the tips above for extending outdoor play and learning at home, and ask your Sparkles! teacher for other ideas.