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Outdoor Play Enhances Learning

Play is one vehicle through which young children learn about their world. Play fosters children's development in many areas: social and emotional, language and communication, cognitive, and physical. As children grow and change, the types of play they engage in also develop and change—beginning with simple manipulation of objects and moving toward imaginative play and sophisticated games involving others.

Where children play can also affect the type and quality of their play. Indoor play often allows for a more structured and controlled environment, but the less structured environment of outdoor play is also beneficial. Outdoor play offers unique opportunities for growth unmatched by play indoors. Recent research shows that time spent in natural environments influences children's ability to be sensitive, expressive, and creative in their later years.

Many of the developmental skills children acquire naturally through play are enhanced in outdoor environments. For example, large, open outdoor spaces encourage active play and whole-body movement such as running, jumping, climbing, and lifting. Children's cognitive, or intellectual, development is fostered when they explore, experiment with, and create using open-ended materials found in nature, such as water, dirt, sand, and leaves. There are also fewer restrictions when play occurs outdoors-adults are often not as concerned about any messes or spills children may create.

Children's language and communication skills are enhanced when they share and describe their outdoor observations. For example, one child may be fascinated by the fact that water disappears when he or she pours it in sand. Another child may wonder why a ball rolls effortlessly down a slide but a shovel doesn't. As they search for answers and explain their discoveries to others, children use new and different vocabulary to express their thoughts and ideas about their outdoor surroundings.

Outdoor play also provides children with new opportunities to experience the impact and consequences of their own behavior among their peers. Outdoors, children can be noisier and move their bodies in ways they might not while inside, which might affect how they do or do not get along with each other in social settings.

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