Research shows that outdoor learning environments stimulate a child’s imagination and contribute to their healthy development (naturallearning.org, 2012). Being outdoors is natural and healthy for children of all ages and enables them to thrive and learn.
In 2016 the findings of a study were published in the Guardian and revealed one in nine children had not set foot in a park, forest or beach in a year. This is so upsetting and quite shocking.
I love being outdoors. When I had my son, I knew I wanted to be outside with him as much as I could. I love nature, too, and experiencing it with him was always high on my “to-do” list.
We started venturing outside when he was a few months old. At farms, playing in the grass, going to parks and watching nature. When the summer months came around we enjoyed water play outside at splash parks and sand play at adventure playgrounds. Even before he was walking (he was around 6-8 months in the summer months) he crawled, touched and experienced it all the same. He absolutely loves being outside and everything to do with it.
From sensory activities with nature to farm trail fun for the toddlers and walks that are enjoyable for adults. There is something for everyone to enjoy in the outdoors. And playing outside is free; it is a good activity for all the family to do something together whilst saving money.
Here are some ideas for how you can play outdoors with your child and some places to go to do it. I hope this gives you some inspiration.
Parks, woods, forests and gardens.
Local parks and gardens are the most convenient way to play outside. Everyone has access to a local park to explore. They are enjoyed by all ages. Adventure playgrounds which are great for toddlers. Walking, playing, cycling, discovering, picnicking and exploring are all great things to do at the park.
Activities to do;
Enjoy looking at flowers, plants, wildlife and people watch.
Collect a variety of natural items. Depending on age, these can be used as sensory play when baby is young (to feel, touch, hold).
Collect and play with independently.
For toddlers, set a scavenger hunt a certain type of nature item such as yellow flower, large long sticks, white feathers.
Take out a empty lunchbox with you and collect up the items you and your child find. When you get home you can add these to a sensory box or make crafts together.
Woods and forests with streams offer opportunities to play with sticks, stream paddling, hunting for small insects and mud exploring and crawling.
Playing in trees together is adventurous and fun. If baby isn’t mobile, sit on trees and touch/feel different types of trees. Look at a variety of tree roots, leaves and stumps. Sit, climb and play in the trees.
Picnics are auitable for all ages! Small babies can lay down on the grass if not mobile and touch different leaves and the textures. Make daisy chains, dens, homes for discovered insects, catch buttterflies.
Picnics are also a good opportunity for playing games in the park and exploring any natural items you collected.
Walking and cycling. Walking can be enjoyed for all families and walks in the countryside are beautiful. Young children can enjoy the sights in sling/pram and be soothed in the process, and toddlers can explore on walks. Cycling is fun and buggies can accommodate young children and babies who can’t ride yet.
Amazing places for these: Forge dam, Endcliffe park, Rivelin park, Graves park, Harewood House in Leeds, Norfolk park, Wentworth garden centre and exploring the Peak District. See my 6 beautiful places to go walking for good walks.
Nature trails, pond dipping and structured activities.
Nature reserves, national trust parks, animal farms and many other outdoor attractions arrange these type of fun activities for families to take part in. They encourage family and friends to get together and solve a trail, puzzles, hunt or do a task together.
Ways to do this;
Check the National Trust website for upcoming events and ranger tots. I recommend the seasonal trails such as Halloween trails and Easter egg hunting.
Research for local woodland playgroups and nurseries. These are a few ways of finding a local group that you can attend to join in on nature activities with your baby/toddler.
Get in touch with local farms to see if they offer any of these activities for children.
Create your own nature trail by choosing on a few things to hunt; animals, plants, fungi, trees are a few ideas. Add a seasonal theme for extra fun.
Water and sand play.
Beaches, play parks and adventure playgrounds are a fantastic way to experiment with water and sand. Mixed together they make interesting texture to play, build with and touch. There are many adventure playgrounds which have water and sand play areas, and some local parks have water play areas.
Things to do in water and sand;
Sit in rock pools and fountains to feel the textures of water.
Sit on the beach and feel the sand, play with sand and water together and separately.
Play with favourite toys in the water.
Run through fountains and waves.
Build sand castles, crawl in sand, fill containers with sand and water.
Experiment with Archimedes screw; often seen at adventure playgrounds.
Farms are fun for all ages and mean children can play with animals, feed and they are good environments to explore and toddle around in. Many farms have activities and sessions for families.
Things to do;
Talk about different animals and what they do.
Joining in with animal handling sessions.
Sit with, stand with, touch and feed the animals.
Join in with nature trails on the farm.
Activity sheets for farms; ask children questions about the animals, ask them to remember interesting facts about their favourite animals.
Top farms; Graves park, Aston springs farm, Heeley city farm, White post farm, Peak Wildlife Park and Tropical butterfly house.
There are so many more things you can do outdoors with children of all ages. Here is a few more.
Mud kitchens; At various groups, to purchase and also DIY. see Grindleford playgroup for good mud kitchen.
Foraging; if your child isn’t old enough they can observe you and touch the foraged items, see how they feel. When of age to join in; set activities to find certain fruits and seeds, collect them in containers for eating or other projects.
Gardening; children can join in with gardening. Planting seeds, helping pot plants, digging up roots. If children are young they can sit and observe and feel the dirt/mud and various plants. An allotment is a great idea if you don’t have a garden.
Seasonal outside activities; playing in snow, foraging, barefoot walks, farm visits at spring time to see new life, jumping in big piles of crunchy autumn leaves, snow drop walks and pond dipping are all ways you and your family can experience the differences in season outside.
Caves; There are many caves in the Peak District to explore and allow children. I love the Heights of Abraham which has fantastic playgrounds and caves, Castleton and Buxton, too.
There is so much to do outdoors. I hope this inspired you, even a little!
What are your top favourite things to do and places to go? Do you have anything to recommend?
Thanks for reading.
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