The importance of outdoor play all year round

In the cooler months in Melbourne, something we often hear is how the weather is so ‘bad’ and how we can’t go out to play when the weather is ‘bad’. This mentality has been around for as long as I can remember from being a child where we would be stuck inside due to the ‘bad’ weather and my brothers and I would chant “Rain rain go away, come again another day…” so we were allowed to go outside to play again!

It didn’t take my mum long to realise that all she needed to have some peace and quiet was to rug us up in raincoats and gumboots before sending us out again.  While I was studying my Diploma of Early Childhood and I learnt about how children all over the world spend their winters in daycare and school playing as usual in the rain and snow, I was amazed at how these children were rugged up in appropriate wet weather or snow gear and headed out to play. I’ve seen the trend slowly start to shift as the Australian culture is beginning to appreciate the benefits involved in outdoor play in all types of weather.

It’s good for physical health

We know that lots of families worry for their children playing outside in cold weather as they are concerned that they will get sick. This is a common myth which has been dispelled by many health professionals and scientists. Usually, colds and flu are more prevalent during the colder months because of increased exposure to poorly ventilated indoor environments. These warm and often humid environments create the perfect atmosphere for germs to grow and spread.

In Australia, we are very conscious of our exposure to the often-harmful UV rays but being overzealous during the cooler months when the UV level is very low, and much less harmful, can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D.

It’s good for motor and cognitive development

During the warmer months, we are constantly encouraging children to run, jump and climb in the outdoors, facilitating the growth and development of those balancing skills, coordination and gross motor skills and muscles. We tend to do this a little less in the cooler months as we stay indoors, all rugged up. However, jumping in puddles with gumboots is just one example of a joyous way to build on these physical skills as well as generate thought processes surrounding estimation, cause and effect and force and energy.

It’s nice to see the other side of the life cycle

Being outside during winter provides children with the opportunity to learn about more of the life cycle of living things in our environment. We often teach children about how everything blooms in spring, or how the leaves change colour and fall off the trees in autumn but we often miss the opportunity to talk about what happens during winter as we spend more time inside.  

It’s a great opportunity to learn about healthy risk-taking

When children are playing inside, whether that be at home or at Jumbo, they are in a reasonably controlled and safe environment. When they are outside, there are a number of new risks and hazards they need to negotiate with, especially in weather they are not used to. Learning that things are wet and slippery, or that they can’t see as far in front due to fog means they will need to adjust their performance and continuously analyse their environment and adjust their responses. Adjusting their behaviour in real-time to alter consequences supports the development of a section of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, that controls decision making and problem-solving.

We hope now, after learning all the benefits of playing outside during the cooler months, that you will feel a little more confident about rugging up and getting outside to play with your family.

This article was contributed by Tahnaya passionate educator and Assistant Director at Jumbo.