The World’s Greatest Playground

lee longoLike many grandparents I have the pleasure of watching my preschool age grandchildren for a few hours after school before their parents pick them up. After my work day it can be challenging. There are times I would love to sit with a hot cup of tea, but I know all the benefits of outdoor play in all types of weather. It is important and it should be a normal part of a child’s daily routine. In the spring and the summer many children have the opportunity to play outdoors and many get to spend time at the beach. There are many learning opportunities available, but as we now are in the throes of winter, the environment changes. Unfortunately, all too often we hear complaints about the weather, and I too have been guilty of complaining about it. Children hear “don’t walk in the water”, “we can’t go out its raining”, “it’s too cold out”, “the weather is bad”. Yet, the winter can be an exciting time of year especially for preschool children.

Yes, it is time consuming to get them dressed and have the right gear for them, but the benefits outweigh the time and effort to get them ready for cold play. Today many children are not engaged in daily outdoor activities in the winter. They are shuffled from house to car and back again. There is no time to linger in the cold weather because our schedules don’t allow for that. Our outside fun has been diminished until next spring.

In the winter the opportunities to learn about the different characteristics of the environment seem limited, but really it is a great time for exploration. For one, it looks and feels entirely different than the other seasons.

Studies have shown that children that play in all kinds of weather learn to adapt easier, are more flexible and creative, and become more appreciative of nature and will receive the many benefits of fresh air. Trees are seen without leaves, the air feels crisp, they begin to learn about temperature and wind, they build self-confidence by developing independence, creating their own games and finding their own way to play.

A child’s critical thinking skills are at work by having to navigate slippery ground, keeping balance, watching rain fall and puddles collect. The effects of temperature on water, how ice develops, then melts, are important for children to witness this significant discovery. Listening to the quiet as snow is falling and forming snow sculptures are just a few of the many learning and exciting opportunities available to them. The winter encompasses all of our senses and for children, playing outdoors creates its own unique experiences and risks.

Safe and healthy risks afford children opportunity for growth. They learn important skills that they must practice to improve and perfect. Sometimes this is the only time they have unstructured play without adult direction. Not allowing children this valuable opportunity to take risks actually harms them; risks help develop their emotional health. They are overcoming their fears a little at a time.

The saying “A Winter Wonderland” is truly what it is. If you ask a child “do you want to go out to play in the rain or snow?” Mostly likely you will get an enthusiastic “YES”. We should tell children to “jump in that puddle, taste the snow, look up at the sky as the rain is falling”. There should be no limits to outdoor play.

So, I enjoy that my grandchildren will put on their rain or snow boots depending on the weather, even if I have to be a little cold, as I accompany them down to the river so I can watch them gleefully and tirelessly throw rocks into the water which for me seems like hours. They have learned that the heavier the rock the bigger the splash and the smaller the rock the farther they can throw. As they walk in the water, they have to navigate the big, the small and the slippery rocks. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they may bang a finger, sometimes they get wet. In the beginning I heard: “I can’t” and some crying, now I mostly hear “I’m okay” and “look at me!” Children should not complain of boredom. The therapy for boredom is” GO OUTSIDE!” It has been said “outdoors is the world’s greatest playground”. Wouldn’t every child want the opportunity to play in the world’s greatest playground? And best of all it’s free and right outside your door!