Rocking and Rolling. Fresh Air, Fun, outdoor play articles and Exploration Why Outdoor Play Is Essential for Healthy Development NAEYC

Aisha discovers two more acorns and shares them with Brady, who is 2 years old. Kate offers Aisha and Brady small bags they can use to collect more acorns and other interesting objects they find during the walk. The group’s progress around the block is slow as the children find twigs, old brown leaves, new green leaves, and more acorns to bring back to the center.
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Remember making mud pies and forts when you were a child? The outdoors is the perfect place for big projects that support STEM skills, such as building, sand and water play, and investigations of the natural world. Almost any indoor activity can be brought outside for further exploration.
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Council on School Health. 2013. “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” Policy statement.  Pediatrics  131 .  s.aappublications.org/content/131/1/183 .
As seen in the opening vignette, you don’t have to plan for science lessons when you take young children outside. Children are natural explorers and discoverers, and you can bring whatever interests them back to your early childhood setting for further exploration. By turning their questions into group inquiry projects, you’ll soon have several starting points for emergent curriculum. An acorn won’t grow quickly enough to satisfy a curious child—it takes two months for the first shoots to appear! But there are faster-growing seeds perfect for classroom experiments. Picture books like  The Carrot Seed , by Ruth Krauss, and  Growing Vegetable Soup , by Lois Ehlert, add early literacy to the mix while building children’s vocabulary and knowledge.
Playing outdoors has benefits for both young children and educators. It’s a refreshing pause in the day’s schedule—time set aside to look and listen, explore and observe, move and let loose. Time spent outside can lead to better physical and mental health, improved sleep, and cognitive, social, and emotional gains for young children. Ensuring that outdoor play is an integral part of your child care and education setting’s daily schedule supports early learning across all domains and unleashes a whole lot of joy—for you and for children!
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It can be challenging to take young children outside—from naps to mealtimes and sunscreen to mittens, a trip outdoors might feel like too much hassle. Additionally, play outside may seem unruly, overwhelming, or lacking in learning opportunities. But outdoor play is worth the time and effort.
Blog Forget the Playroom…Take Them Outside! Members Only Article Rocking and Rolling. Fresh Air, Fun, and Exploration: Why Outdoor Play Is Essential for Healthy Developmentالهواء النقي والمتعة والاستكشاف: أهمية اللعب الخارجي في التطور الصحي للأطفال Members Only Article 10x: Play in the Grass! Practical Considerations for Quality Outdoor Play Members Only Become a Member Support our efforts to secure a bright future for young children, educators, and families. Join or Renew Support NAEYC Donate to help NAEYC advance a strong and dynamic early childhood profession and connect educators to cutting-edge resources. Make a Donation Find Your Affiliate Connect with professionals in your community at conferences, networking events, advocacy efforts, leadership opportunities and more! Connect Get updates from NAEYC Get updates from NAEYC Email Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube LinkedIn Pinterest About Mission & Strategic Direction Our Work People Careers @NAEYC Contact Us Your Early Childhood Career Early Childhood Career Center For Faculty & Students Advance your Career Higher Ed Programs Directory Professional Development Global Engagement Power to the Profession Resources and Favorites Books Young Children journal Teaching Young Children magazine For Families Hello—online community Shop FAQs Get Involved Annual Conference Professional Learning Institute Public Policy Forum Week of the Young Child Interest Forums & Online Communities Become an Accredited Center Trainings and Webinars Take Action Volunteer Advocate Donate Partner Sponsor Advertise Membership Benefits Join or Renew Membership Options Families Membership Contact Us Support FAQ
Explore key early childhood topics such Developmentally Appropriate Practice, play, and math.
Toddlers are all about challenging themselves to do new and difficult things—pet a dog, climb some stairs, venture a little farther away from a caregiver and then return. Playing outside provides opportunities to run faster, climb higher, jump farther, and more—all under the watchful eye of a caring adult.
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“Wow! That’s an acorn. It fell from the tree last fall,” Marissa answers. “If you plant it in the ground, it will grow into a big tree.”
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Rocking & Rolling is written by infant and toddler specialists and contributed by ZERO TO THREE, a nonprofit organization working to promote the health and development of infants and toddlers by translating research and knowledge into a range of practical tools and resources for use by the adults who influence the lives of young children. The column can be found online at  /resources/pubs/yc/columns .
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Deziel, S. 2017. “5 Reasons Why Every Kid Should Play Outside.”  Today’s Parent . www.todaysparent.com/kids/kids-health/unexpected-benefits-of-outdoor-play/ .
Kathy Kinsner, has been a reading specialist, an Emmy-winning producer on the PBS series Reading Rainbow , and the person in charge of curriculum development at non-profit Roads to Success. She has a master’s in education from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in television, radio, and film from Syracuse University. Currently, she is the senior manager of parenting resources at ZERO TO THREE.
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A study of 2- to 5-year-olds showed that children who play outdoors sleep better at night . This may be due to the physical activity, stress reduction, and exposure to natural light that come with playing outdoors . You may want to share this information with families—a tired, happy child is one who sleeps well!
Research shows that older children are more attentive and productive in the classroom when recess—indoors or outdoors—is part of the school day . If older children need a brain break, it follows that younger ones do too.
One-on-one interactions, like the conversation between Aisha and Marissa in the vignette, outdoor play articles help build a foundation for future teacher relationships that will occur when children enter school. Marissa’s interest and delight in Aisha’s discovery reinforce Aisha’s knowledge that she’s important and her ideas matter. Outdoor play also provides a chance to practice social and emotional skills with other children, including problem solving, turn taking, encouragement, self-control, safe risk taking, and following the rules of a game. And outdoor play provides opportunities to develop empathy; for example, imagine one child encouraging another to try the slide or a child comforting another who has fallen down while running.
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Yogman, M., A. Garner, J. Hutchinson, K. Hirsh-Pasek, & R.M. Golinkoff. 2018. “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development.” Clinical Report.  Pediatrics  142 : 1–18. s.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/142/3/e20182058… .
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Coyle, K.J. 2011.  Green Time for Sleep Time: Three Ways Nature and Outdoor Time Improve Your Child’s Sleep: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers . Reston, VA: National Wildlife Federation. www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Be Out There/BeOutThere_GreenTimeforSleepTi… .
You can use outdoor spaces to create intentional learning activities that are difficult to execute inside. There’s great value in looking at books about nature in the shade of a tree, pouring water at an outdoor water table, building extra large structures in the sandbox or mud, collecting leaves, watching a parade of ants, and playing pretend on a playground structure. To make the most of your outdoor time, think about creative, joyful, engaging activities that capitalize on children’s need to move and enthusiasm for doing so, while also achieving other curricular goals. For example, you might create a sorting game in which children have to find all the yellow balls and all the red balls hidden on the playground, then sort them into two groups.
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The obesity rate for US children ages 2 to 5 is 14 percent, and it rises to over 40 percent for middle-aged adults, leading to an increased risk of health problems like diabetes and heart disease . That’s one reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a “prescription for play” at every well-child visit through age 2 and Nemours Health and Prevention Services recommends daily, supervised outdoor time for children from birth to age 5 . Specifically, Nemours calls for toddlers to have at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity each day. Outdoor play is a great way to model the joy of physical activity. When children run, jump, climb, throw and kick balls, and ride toys that require balance, they also build gross motor skills and start developing a habit of being active.
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Hales, C.M., M.D. Carroll, C.D. Fryar, & C.L. Ogden. 2017. “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016.” NCHS Data Brief #288. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics .  www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf .
Rocking and Rolling. Fresh Air, Fun, outdoor play articles and Exploration Why Outdoor Play Is Essential for Healthy Development NAEYC
Rocking and Rolling. Fresh Air, Fun, outdoor play articles and Exploration Why Outdoor Play Is Essential for Healthy Development NAEYC
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Hughes, D. 2009.  Best Practices for Physical Activity: A Guide to Help Children Grow Up Healthy for Organizations Serving Children and Youth . Newark, DE: Nemours Health and Prevention Services.  www.nemours.org/content/dam/nemours/www/filebox/service/preventive/nhps/paguidelines.pdf .
You are here Home / Resources / Publications / Young Children / May 2019 / Rocking and Rolling. Fresh Air, Fun, and Exploration: Why Outdoor Play Is Essential for Healthy Development Kathy Kinsner Coteachers Marissa and Kate are out for a walk around the block with a small group of 18- to 30-month-olds. The sky is a brilliant blue and there are bright green grass shoots and spring leaves to touch and smell. Two-and-a-half-year-old Aisha approaches Marissa, eyes shining, clutching a treasured object in her hand. She uncurls her fingers to reveal an acorn. “ outdoor education scholarly articles L