Even on gloomy days getting outside and exposed to sunlight helps our bodies to make vitamin D, which keeps bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It is hard to get enough vitamin D from the sun in the UK at the best of times, but every little really does help. Here are the benefits of getting outside with your child:
Mud is good for your child’s brain
Studies have shown that mud play supports children’s healthy immune systems and is a mindful activity, as the focus is on the properties of the mud. Observe the mud carefully and focus on what it consists of. Children may be able to spot sand, small stones, fine roots or leaf mulch. Encourage older children to look for signs of life as even in winter some plants will begin to emerge. There are types of bacteria that are naturally found in soil which activate the neurons that produce serotin – a key chemical in many bodily functions, as well as a natural anti-depressant.
Get Weather Watching
Our ever-changing weather is one of the reasons why it is always a favourite topic of conversation amongst adults. “Will it rain later? Has there been a frost? Is there snow forecast?” These are all phrases that children will hear. A study of the sky each day offers so many opportunities for learning.
Look at the shape, colour and movement of the clouds and discuss what they signify. Discover the direction of the wind by making your own windsock or look for signs that the weather is changing. For example, the way that cows or sheep are said to lie down before it rains or some plants will close their leaves on a cold day.
Being curious about the weather helps children to connect to the natural world which, in turn, stimulates an awareness of their environment and their place in it.
Helps grow your baby’s brain
In the first year of life a baby’s brain doubles in size and with a baby’s brain growing at such a rapid rate they haven’t got time to wait for a fine sunny day. Getting outside whatever the weather and taking advantage of what Nature can do for us all, through a simple walk can help your child’s brain make new connections.
With so much to hear and see outside nature exercises a baby’s brain and helps develop the memory needed to continue to use and keep brain cells. These earliest experiences shape a baby’s brain development and have a lifelong impact on their mental and emotional health.
Being outside helps your child’s eyesight
Visual tracking of birds in the sky, planes flying overhead, the movement of leaves in the tree tops and looking at the edge of things helps the development of the brain connections needed for vision. Myopia (short sightedness) is becoming more common and a protective factor of Myopia development is time spent outdoors.
Playing outside helps your child’s brain develop new physical skills
Running and chasing which can develop good physical fitness, agility and stamina. Jumping and running can develop bone density, large muscle groups and stability. Climbing which can develop coordination, balance and strength. Time away from busy routines and time-tables and freedom to shout, make noise and let off steam all help with your child’s development.
Being outdoors can help lower your blood pressure and reduce stress
Spending time walking among or simply looking at trees lowers blood pressure and reduces the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Researchers have found that nature simply makes us happy.
Improved Vitamin D levels
Exposing your skin to sunshine enables the body to make vitamin D, which is why it’s also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” It helps promote healthy skin, bone and muscles. Research suggests vitamin D may have protective effects against everything from osteoporosis to cancer to depression to heart attacks and stroke
A study at Liverpool John Moores University found that babies sleep longer when they are exposed to plenty of natural light in the afternoon. The rhythm of walking outside often helps your baby to drop off easier too.
Adults often sleep better is they have done some outdoor activity during the day. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Just a simple walk can help you sleep better
- Walk slowly and carefully, listening to the scrunch of leaves on the ground or the soft squelch of mud. Encourage children to listen to the sounds that their feet make on the grass, earth or pavement.
- Stand still and close your eyes, tune in to the sounds of traffic, the whistle of the wind of the patter of raindrops. Are there any birds singing?
- If it is cold, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. What can the children see? Focus on deep breathing for a minute or two and watch the vapour clouds that are formed as children exhale.
- Focus on a particular tree, shrub, leaf or maybe a dew-encrusted cobweb. Look carefully, noting every detail.
It’s great for your mental health too
Being a parent is rewarding but it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Nature can help us feel more relaxed, and make us feel less overwhelmed. Taking time to sit, take some deep breaths and enjoy the sights and smells of the outdoors can calm our mind and soothe our nervous system. Meeting a friend for a walk can allow us to connect with nature and feel more in control of our day. Even a 10 minute walk when we are feeling stressed can help calm our minds.
We don’t need to find a park or green space for nature to benefit us. Getting out into the garden, planting some herbs or flowers on our balconies or just getting the doors and windows open can help to bring the outdoors in.
The Outdoors and our Children and Family Centres
All of our sessions include play indoors and outdoors, this is why the door is always open and you’ll often see children in wet weather gear playing in the rain.
We regularly run sessions specifically promoting outdoor play, including OWL Babies and Outdoor Explorers but outdoor play opportunities are also available at Little Explorers, Explorers, Explorers Plus and Messy Play sessions.