Nature Play - DuPage Children's Museum

Gift the JOY of Play…

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July 15, 2015

Some of my fondest, most magical childhood memories include exploring at the Garfield Park Conservatory, feeding the geese and running down the hills at the Arboretum, and spending hours swimming and sifting through pebbles on the shore of Lake Michigan. While I am a born-and-raised city girl, I have always felt at home in nature and still, to this day, find the forests to be magical, the coast lines to be breathtaking and am continually amazing by our planet. I attribute much of this, if not all, to the fact that I had so many opportunities as a child to play, explore, create, and imagine in a variety of places, both natural and manmade.

As it turns out, there has been extensive research done to demonstrate how early childhood experiences with the outdoors do much more than just foster an appreciation for the natural world. In addition to the physical benefits of outdoor play, these opportunities support and enhance a child’s cognitive and social/emotional growth as well. In an article by Rae Pica, she discusses how “outside, children are more likely to invent games. As they do, they’re able to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. They feel safe and in control, which promotes autonomy, decision-making, and organizational skills.” She continues to point out that inventing games typically includes creating rules. Learning about rules and developing an understanding of why rules are necessary are important life lessons and are key to success later in life.

Outdoor play additionally provides opportunities to learn communication skills, build vocabulary, learn about number relationships (if keeping score and counting are involved), and learn how to play cooperatively. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers also tend to learn best when their senses are activated. What better way to do this than outside, where there are so many things to see, touch, hear, and smell.

I know that the reality of the world we live in is that the days of sending your children out on their own and telling them to be home by dark are pretty much over, so why not try and block off some time to get outside as a family for some good old-fashioned fun? Does your child have a favorite outdoor activity that you want to share? Or maybe you have a treasured childhood memory of puddle jumping? We would love to hear from you!

Photo credit: Warren McLaren (inov8) – child learning the a puddle