Is outdoor play “weather dependent” at your daycare?
It is for most daycares… and it’s a problem.
That’s because most daycare licensing agencies leave weather interpretation to the staff.
While they do prefer that kids go outside every day, they do not issue edicts.
So there’s no ironclad definition of “good” or “bad” weather.
Subjective feelings (“it’s too windy!”) gives many daycares a pass to stay inside.
Because going outside to play should be as predictable as lunch at noon.
Extreme temperatures or storms should be the only thing that can stop outdoor play.
Why the militancy?
Playing outside does incredible things for a child’s health and development.
There is nothing indoors that compares to fresh air and sunlight.
Quality of outdoor space is important but not as much as you’d guess
Sure, outdoor play is important, you say.
But what about the quality of outdoor space?
Isn’t that what really matters?
Now, obviously, there’s tremendous variety among daycares.
Some spaces are exciting and attractive to kids.
Other spaces are a turnoff.
But quality of space is a secondary issue.
Daycare-age kids can be happy in play spaces with serious limitations.
How, you ask?
Fun is an attitude. Especially in small children.
They follow the signals of the adults.
Grumbling staff… distracted staff… lazy staff?
Of course, any outdoor play space can be improved.
(It need not break the bank, either.)
How a space changes must come from observing children at play.
Every daycare should strive to maintain and improve their outdoor space. Kids notice neglect, even when it’s subtle.
Health benefits of outdoor play for children
- More time spent outside early in life may reduce nearsightedness. Could extra sunshine now mean no glasses later? Possibly.
- Sunshine on the skin during warmer months produces Vitamin D. Children need vitamin D to strengthen their bones and immune system.
- On most days, outdoor air will be much cleaner than indoor air. Good air quality helps keep children’s lungs healthy.
- Sunlight helps a child’s body produce melatonin. Thus, the time spent outdoors may help them go to bed earlier and sleep better.
- Kids who play outdoors have stronger immune systems. Sunlight, dirt, and sweat activate the body’s defense system.
- Children tend to move more when they’re outside. Running, jumping, climbing, digging… you name it. Physical activity hinders unhealthy weight gain and obesity.
Outdoor play boosts children’s mental health
Playing outside is not only good for a child’s body.
It can supercharge his mind, too.
Kids are usually free to play however they want outdoors. These breaks (e.g., recess) have been shown to improve their attention spans.
Outdoors is a time to run, yell, and scream. It helps kids release tension, stress, and jitters. Who wouldn’t want a less crazy kid?
Sunlight, even on dim days, can elevate a child’s mood via serotonin production. Serotonin is a brain chemical that correlates with feelings of contentment and satisfaction.
The opportunities for touching, smelling, and hearing things can ease the stress of kids with sensory processing disorders.
Sharing playground equipment can be an effective teaching tool for kids of every age and ability. Learning to cooperate is a skill that kids need in adulthood.
Going outdoors is an antidote to boredom. Kids can feel the difference between indoor and outdoor air. The latter alerts them.
Preparing to go outside is an activity all by itself. Kids often love transitions.
Maybe something about “the journey vs the destination?”
But even kids uncomfortable with transitions can benefit from the practice.
There’s less pressure on them when other kids are getting ready than there is when it’s just them and a teacher.
They watch other kids and learn that changing clothes is not all that scary.
Intangible benefits of playing outside
Kids spend less time outdoors than ever before.
There are many reasons for that (devices, scheduled activities, safety), but it saddens parents and grandparents.
Because they remember their own childhood.
When their child does not play outside because of daycare rules or preferences, it limits the potential to bond over a shared experience.
Parents appreciate reliving holding a grasshopper or making a mud pie through their kids.
Outdoor play, unlike the latest Xbox game, allows them to do it.
Further, parents with kids in daycare often don’t have the time to let them play outside. Especially in colder months, when it’s dark by the time they pick them up.
Outdoor play in childhood can translate into an appreciation for God’s creation, as in Psalm 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
Kids who enjoy the outdoors in daycare are more likely to enjoy it as they grow into adulthood.
Positive experiences shape a child’s thinking. When kids associate being outside with fun, you’ll see them becoming hikers, skiers, and cyclists.
Put another way, kids who never go outside don’t know what they’re missing!
At First Things Child Care, we understand that kids are only young once. What they learn in childhood will help or hinder them as they grow.
That’s why we play outside, two to three hours each day. Fresh air makes a child’s life richer.
Playing outdoors in non-perfect weather is not radical, either. Danish forest school it’s not!
If your child’s daycare doesn’t include outdoor time, ask them to make changes. There are many scheduled activities that could and should be replaced.
Screen time is the most obvious.
But what about crafts?
Kids may or may not remember the ice-cream stick teepee they made in daycare when they grow up.
But the feeling and emotions of playing in sand?
They’ll continue to build on it with every trip to the beach or lake.
And that’s just about priceless.