At InspiredPlay, we believe that the outdoors is the very best place for children to practice and master emerging skills – it is a vital part of a child’s physical development.

Children are at their highest level of development when at play.  Play is dynamic, it’s active, it’s an integral part of children’s growth and development, allowing them to discover their full potential.

Play is the foundation of learning. It provides enjoyment and emotional fulfillment. Children learn about the world around them through self-created experiences where they are free to express their creativity, individuality, and demonstrate the ability to imagine new worlds.

The research is clear – play is critical for children, families, and communities and is absolutely necessary for a healthy society. 

Playgrounds offer immense opportunities for extending classroom learning and intimately engaging young minds. A well-designed outdoor play environment provides a natural classroom of interdisciplinary, collaborative, and hands-on experiences. In addition, learning outdoors can be cross-curricular and address almost all developmental domains.

Here are just some of the benefits:

  • Intellectual and academic learning
  • Mood and memory
  • Stress relief
  • Disease preventative
  • Heath and healing
  • Self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Social interaction
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Exploration and discovery
  • Language and communication
  • Attention restoration

Quite the spectrum! Outdoor play stimulates the body (physical development), the mind (cognitive development) and the spirit (socio-emotional development.

And so it is critical that we as designers, educators, programmers and play scholars effectively advocate that outdoor play environments are not just outdoor play but also learning environments.

Here’s why:

  • Reinforces concepts and academic learning in meaningful ways
  • Maximizes the value of outdoor play environments
  • Provides a natural classroom in which play and learning can be authentic, experiential, and relevant
  • Offers interdisciplinary, collaborative, cross-curricular, and hands-on learning
  • Supports rich sequences of play (Cosco, 2011)
  • Encourages creativity, imagination, and discovery
  • Allows extensive manipulation of environment and problem-solving
  • Injects novelty into the play environment which is important to maintaining cognitively high levels of play, such as symbolic play (Dodge and Frost, 1986)

And here’s how!

  • Address the developmental needs of the whole child through play
  • Promote inclusive play for children of all abilities
  • Offer key elements of play that provide active play experiences and promote physical activity
  • Infuse nature into the everyday spaces of childhood
  • Provide various types and forms of play
  • Aligning with early childhood accreditations, requirements and quality rating systems

Looking at your current play environment, you can begin to identify areas of strength and need to help you set priorities.  What learning categories does your outdoor play environment currently address?

Is it developmentally appropriate? Does it promote healthy risk-taking? Are there a variety and diversity of play activities available? Are there beginning, intermediate, advanced opportunities? Does it address the developmental domains? Intentionally promote social interaction? Does your playground promote physical activity through play? Are there opportunities to engage with nature? Does it promote inclusion?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to offer fun learning activities that are aligned with the national standards in language arts, math, science, social studies, physical education, health, and the creative arts.

Help bring classroom learning outdoors to reinforce concepts in creative ways!

These resources from our incredible partners at PlayCore will help maximize the value of your most valuable asset – your playground! This will help the keiki in your care to meet physical, socio-emotional, and academic goals through meaningful play experiences.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”​​ 
​– Fred Rogers

We hope this article has inspired and empowered you to advocate for play every day! As you have discovered, you can easily extend classroom learning outdoors in new, fun, and exciting ways. Need help creating a quality outdoor play and learning environment for your early childcare center? Don’t hesitate to contact us and let’s bring your vision to life!