At one with nature

At one with nature
Complete with parks, trees, dirt, sand, water, and more, the great outdoors is fully equipped to keep your little ones entertained. Whatever the weather, parents have everything to gain by taking their kids outside to play.

Complete with parks, trees, dirt, sand, water, and more, the great outdoors is fully equipped to keep your little ones entertained. Whatever the weather, parents have everything to gain by taking their kids outside to play.

Children need to play outdoors. What’s more, children are twice as active when they’re outside as when they’re indoors. Fresh air makes them want to run, jump, leap, and climb—movements that not only strengthen their motor skills, but also help them understand their bodies.

Just ask Émilie, mother of eight-year-old Béatrice and five-year-old twins PaulÉmile and Héloïse. “My kids have more space to move when they play outside. They love getting to run around and shout!”

New ways to move

“Being in nature can also get children moving in different ways,” says Mathieu Point, an educational studies professor at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières. “Walking on uneven ground, for example, builds strength and balance.” So does climbing rocks or walking along a log.

Sylvie Gervais, founder of the co-op organization Enfant nature, routinely takes daycare groups on nature outings. “I’m always surprised by how quickly their endurance improves. After just a few weeks, they can walk a distance equivalent to their age in years: a four-year-old, for instance, can walk four kilometres and think of it as playtime!”

Benoît, father of two-year-old Louis and five-year-old Jeanne, watched his son make impressive strides in the great outdoors. “Last winter, I would often join my daughter’s daycare group on nature walks as part of the Grandir en forêt (Growing up in the forest) program,” he says. “Louis, who was just 20 months old, came with us. He walked through the snow to stay with the group. In terms of motor skills, he made a lot of progress. He’s quick and steady on his feet. I’m going to have to take up jogging just to keep up with him!”

Explore, observe, create

According to Point, playing outdoors opens up a whole world of stimulating experiences for a child. “When kids are outside, they can observe insects and small animals, for example, discover the texture of trees and the scent of leaves,” he explains. “This increases their sense of curiosity and can get them to start talking more and asking questions. In other words, contact with nature even helps improve learning and language skills.”

It gets better: with so much to see and do outdoors, there’s no need to bring out other toys or supplies. “We often go for walks by the river near our house,” says Émilie. “The kids have a great time just throwing rocks in the water or collecting sticks.” According to MariePierre Lajoie, an early childhood educator involved with the Grandir en forêt program who regularly takes her group outdoors, children get very creative when they play outside.

“A stick that starts out as a broom might eventually become a fork or magic wand.” Lajoie adds that playing with objects they find in nature also allows toddlers to hone their fine motor skills. She remembers seeing a little boy use two sticks as chopsticks to “eat” a plant while playing restaurant. “I couldn’t have come up with a better activity myself for practising fine motor skills!”

Good for the mind and body

Playing outdoors is also known to have numerous health benefits. Since children are more active when they’re outside, outdoor play improves their fitness and lowers the risk of weight problems. In addition, it encourages them to look at things in the distance, which is good for their overall eyesight. Sunlight is also believed to help prevent nearsightedness.

When they play outside, children experience a greater sense of freedom.

Moving more also improves quality of sleep, which has a positive effect on a child’s mood. Studies have even shown that contact with nature creates a general sense of well-being, says Point. “It alleviates tension and makes it easier to focus and pay attention in other situations,” he explains. “When they come back in the house after playing outside, my kids are calmer,” says Émilie. “They tend to play quieter games.”

Parents, too, have plenty to gain. “I love being outside,” says Benoît. “It puts me in a good mood. My kids can sense it. We end up having a great time, and it brings us closer together!”


Open-air daycare

Certain daycares in Quebec City and the Mauricie region are experimenting with an outdoor concept. The children play, eat, and sometimes even take their naps in the open air, spending half or full days outside all year round. This routine is believed to provide countless benefits for the kids, including less stress, less conflict, more teamwork, and enhanced creativity.


Photo: gettyimages/imgorthand and Maxim Morin


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, July–August 2018
Research and copywriting: Julie Leduc
Scientific review: Claude Dugas, Professor, Department of Exercise Science, University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières (UQTR)