The benefits of outdoor play are so great for young children. Outdoor play areas are a place where children can release energy, use loud voices, play vigorously, and engage in messy projects. Outdoor play allows children to explore and learn about the local environment.
Research continues to explore the importance of outdoor play (Children and Nature Network, 2012). But how do you, as the teacher, ensure your outdoor play area supports the curriculum from the classroom and meets the individual and developmental needs of each child in your program?
READ: Why kids need to spend time outdoors
READ: Why Outdoor Space is Essential for Healthy Development
Safe Outdoor Space
It is important to ensure your outdoor play area is safe for all children. By first addressing safety, you are making sure the space is free from preventable risks.
You must consider fall zones, surfacing, access to shade, and the conditions of materials and equipment. Remember to check the temperature of the play surfaces. Metal or plastic slides, benches, and poured concrete surfaces can get very hot and very cold.
Inspect surfaces for cracks caused by temperature changes or water damage. Follow your program’s safety guidelines to ensure that all equipment follows safety standards.
READ: 3 Safety Guidelines for Outside Time
Developmentally Appropriate Space
Ensuring your play area is developmentally appropriate is the next step in setting up an awesome play space outdoors. Outdoor play space should support each child physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. Appropriately designed play areas allow children to foster experiences that build self-confidence, and opportunities to be creative, explore, manipulate, investigate, and engage. When designing an outdoor play space to incorporate each child’s developmental skills they can meet assessment goals and advance their learning.
READ: Developmentally Appropriate Spaces
Bringing the Classroom Learning Outside
Correlating your classroom learning to outside play space is important for carry-over play. Creating outdoor centers allows you to mirror the classroom outdoors. Outdoor play should include active play, messy and sensory play, creative play, imaginative play, areas of nature, quiet places, places for one or two children to play together, and an adequate amount of time to expand the learning concepts from the classroom.
Thinking about the outdoor play space as another classroom area will allow you to extend block play, housekeeping, cozy areas, and fine motor space in a brand-new way. Carrying essential curriculum items to tie into the theme will enhance the focus concepts.
READ: 7 Essentials for Creating an Outdoor Space your Children will Adore
Burnett, C. (2022). 7 essentials for creating an outdoor space your children will adore. Childhood 101. https://childhood101.com/7-steps-to-creating-an-outdoor-play-space-your-children-will-adore/
Cohen, D. (2022). Why kids need to spend time in nature. Child’s Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/.
Hannon, C.(2022). 3 Child safety guidelines for outdoor activities. Council for Professional Recognition. https://www.cdacouncil.org/en/3-child-safety-guidelines-for-outdoor-activities/
Kinser, K. (2019). Rocking and rolling. Fresh air, fun, and exploration: Why outdoor play is essential for healthy development. Young Children 74:2. National Association for the Education of the Young Child. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2019/outdoor-play-is-essential.
National Program for Playground Safety. (2022). Developmentally appropriate outdoor learning environments. University of North Iowa. https://playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/developmentally-appropriate-outdoor-learning-environments