The grass is finally green. Flowers are blooming. Trees are filling out their leaves. After a long winter (and CRAZY April) it feels as is if nature is drawing us outdoors to explore all that is new in the world.
Despite the draw of the outdoors, rounding little ones up to go outdoors can sometimes feel like a lot of work. Getting jackets zipped, shoes tied, counting heads and making sure the play space is safe can be daunting, but the effort is so worth the investment. Did you know being in green spaces reduces cortisol levels? Cortisol is the hormone linked to stress. And here’s the really cool part… green spaces don’t just reduce cortisol in children but in adults, too! Does the end of the school year have you feeling a little frazzled? Get outside! Additional research shows that children who spend longer periods of time outdoors have better concentration, are more cooperative and creative, and have better problem solving skills – all characteristics key to happy classrooms and school-ready kids.
Some of us feel very comfortable taking children outdoors, and that’s TERRIFIC! But many of us didn’t grow up spending time outdoors, and even if we appreciate that it’s important, our own discomfort holds us back. That’s completely OK, too! There are lots of resources and people to help!
Two of the most important considerations in enjoyable outdoor experiences are clothing and attitude. Many outdoor educators enjoy saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Dressing for the weather includes layers and protection from the elements. Child care professionals often share frustrations about getting appropriate clothing from parents. Building support from parents is definitely important, but this shouldn’t be seen as a barrier. We all know weather in Iowa can change on a dime, so it’s important to have extra layers available for children. If it’s wet outside, protect little feet by having a supply of empty bread sacks available. Slip them over shoes with a little masking tape and you’re set!
Sometimes caregivers aren’t comfortable taking children outdoors because they don’t know what to do with children. There are lots of resources listed below to give you ideas for both outdoor components and activities, but what’s most important is to give yourself over to experiencing the outdoors with children. It doesn’t matter if you can’t name a bird, a bug or a tree. You observing and wondering alongside a child will increase their interest and engagement!
Through research, we know two factors increase positive adult attitudes toward the outdoors – amount of time outdoors as a child and someone who mentored their love of the outdoors during childhood. Combined, these factors put early childhood professionals in a powerful position to impact lifelong attitudes around love of nature and the outdoors!!