As a parent, getting outside in the winter can be challenging. We often worry that it might rain or that our children will get muddy, but as we know, children couldn’t care less.  They love the great outdoors all year round – especially when the weather is messy.  During the colder months, we are often wondering what we can do with our children on our walks and in the backyard to further their development and love for the outdoors.

Why is outdoor play important during the colder months?

Outdoor play helps with your child’s physical development, health and encourages them to be curious. The cold is often a new sensation to many young children and with positive experiences, this helps their development.

When children are exposed to playing outdoors in the cold weather, they learn respect for nature and the environment, identifying hazards that may not be apparent during the summertime. There are also new smells in these months, such as wet greenery or mossy earth and the smoke from firewood, which furthers their cognitive development as they develop schemas.

Being exposed to the cold also helps children with decision making (and risk-taking) particularly when it comes to choosing clothes and what is suitable for the cold weather. For example, our children will often choose to wear a beanie instead of a wide-brimmed hat to protect their ears when it is cold.

It is more important than ever to get outside. At Child’s Play ELC, we have come up with a list of things you can do in the winter and spring to help your child enjoy the fresh air that doesn’t rely on playgrounds

1. Jump in Puddles

If it has just rained and your backyard is a little bit wet, why not put on, gumboots and a raincoat to go jump in some puddles. It is a perfect pastime to introduce to your child while also improving motor skills and their five senses. When we are stuck inside the key is to have a bit of fun and every child likes to get a little dirty. If it hasn’t rained in your area you can create puddles with a greywater sprinkler or hose.

2. Picnic in your backyard

Picnics are a great way to get outside in the colder months, even if it is only out on your patio. With a picnic, there are endless possibilities for children. It could be a tea party, an adventurer’s packed lunch, or a good old fashioned family picnic. They will get so excited dressing up, making food, and setting up the picnic with you that they will barely notice that it might be colder outside. Then once you’re outside and lunch or afternoon tea is eaten, they will be off to explore the garden.

3. Bike Rides

If your child is a little bit older it might be time to consider their first bike! Bike riding is a fantastic way for the whole family to keep active during lockdown and it helps children learn balance, build strength and identify hazards. It is a great way to keep warm and explore your neighbourhood differently. Bike riding also supports the Reggio Emilia curriculum as children are learning more about their role in the environment.

4. Planting flowers and vegetables

Young children love seeing things grow. Previously at our Tarneit service, we have had pet stick insects and butterflies which the children loved. At our Torquay service, we have a vegetable garden in which our children plant, watch and pick what they grow all year round.

There are two ideal times to plant new plants in March and in August because they will bloom in spring and summertime. This is a particularly ideal activity to do with young children as they have a deep fascination to learn how things work and grow. This fascination helps them build social skills, critical thinking and empathy. It is also a great activity as you will potentially get some fresh fruit and vegetables which naturally children will want to try.

You can pick up seeds, bulbs and seedlings (mini plants) at your local nursery, Bunnings or some supermarkets.

5. Flying kites

If it’s a little bit windy like we know it can be in Tarneit and Torquay, why not go outside and fly a kite? You can even be creative and make your own kites using newspapers like in Mary Poppins and have kite races if there is a nearby footy field. While children like any chance to explore nature, if they are a little bit older start asking them questions about what they can see, hear and feel and why it is flying so high. This will help them build fine motor skills, encourage creativity and develop critical thinking skills.

6. Digging for worms

Children might get a little dirty with this task but it is a great activity to go and explore your garden, particularly if it has just rained. In the wintertime, they may dig for worms in the flower pot or follow the slime to find snails. In spring they watch ants strut in a line or bees pollinate flowers and trees. By going outside and exploring your garden, they begin to have an appreciation for wildlife and plants which in turn develops some of their emotional skills including empathy, kindness and gratitude. If you don’t have a garden, you can go to your local wetlands or national park where there are fun trails and lots of wildlife to explore.

If you are looking for more ideas to do when outside you can check out some of our other articles on open play or get in touch with our room educators.