For many dirt is one of those 4-letter words that shouldn’t be talked about let alone played in, but playing outside, especially playing in dirt, is an important part of every child’s life. Simply playing outdoors means working on spatial recognition, and learning cause and effect and lots of sensory play, just to name a few important benefits. Thinking back to my childhood, the first thing that pops into my mind is playing in my backyard. Either catching fireflies (sorry to rub it in but I grew up in the Missouri where we have them), singing songs while swinging, or making mud pies. Now you may be wondering why this is so important; it is because now I get to teach children about insects, and now I get to sing, dance and get dirty while teaching our Little Sprouts Garden Club. My childhood was my first steps into outdoor/informal education. Always remember, how your child plays today will affect how they learn tomorrow.
Why get dirty?
One - You know all those microbes and organisms that live in dirt, they are actually good for you and your child. Being exposed to nature at an early age helps build a healthy immune system, as well as making it less likely that your child will develop outdoor allergies and asthma. Two - Dirt is relaxing. Ok maybe not dirt all by its self, but add a little water and squish it between your toes, just like a day at the spa. There is a reason why many child therapists will have sand boxes or have children go outdoors, nature is naturally soothing.
Why play outdoors rather than in?
Hopefully, if your child often plays inside they are also playing outside. Feeling the grass between their toes, splashing in puddles, or building a fort with sticks. Even a small, simple outdoor space is a magical place for your child’s imagination. The same space can be a medieval castle for one child or a moon base for another. Letting your child play with the natural elements in the space is going to make them use their brain to figure out what to do with it, rather than a toy that tells them what it is and how to use it.
Kids naturally learn about the cycles of nature while playing outside. Being outdoors the 3 big cycles your child will see is the water cycle, an insect life cycle and how a botany cycle works. Learning how a small seed can grow your dinner is one of the focal points of our Little Sprouts Garden Club. It is hard for kids and grownups to see that we eat all parts of the plant, but having your child plant a garden will encourage that curiosity and normally will expand their eating pallet too. One of our parents in the Little Sprouts class said, “My child likes to talk about all the parts of the produce he eats. He shares what he learned in his sprouts class to others.”
Many times we bring our children indoors to escape the elements, but it's beneficial to do just the opposite. With the summer heat not over yet my family and I are still outdoors playing in our kiddy pool and in the mud. Little does my son know that when he is playing in the mud he is protecting himself from the sun. When it rains we go outside to splash, and when we visit Missouri during winter we play in the snow. With all the right precautions, weather can be an experience to share as a family.
What's the most important reason to play outdoors?…because it is FUN!
Come on over to Kidspace this Sunday to celebrate Nickelodeon's World Wide Day of Play. World Wide Day of Play is a day where we celebrate turning off the digital entertainment by getting outside and being active! We will celebrate this special day while kicking off the two week long Pasadena AXS (Arts and Sciences Festival) during which we will explore this year’s theme, “Curiosity”, with the art and science of flight. Join us as we make a giant cardboard “Space City” in the central courtyard, make your very own flying contraptions and test them, or watch an amazing rocket show!
Samantha Mendoza, Outdoor Education Specialist, has been with Kidspace since 2011. Her previous experience includes teaching at the Los Angeles Zoo and St. Louis Zoo.