Outdoor play isn’t just fun–it’s important to children’s growth and development!

By Monica Edgerton and Angela Engborg, All Our Kin Garden Consultants

Spring is finally here, and it’s a great time to get children outside! At All Our Kin, we know that nature plays an important role in a child’s physical, social/emotional, and cognitive development. We also know that nature-based education can be a powerful tool to connect children and families to fresh, nutritious foods. That’s why we established the Garden Project, a two-year enrichment opportunity designed to enhance family child care programs’ outdoor curriculum, promote healthy eating, and encourage outdoor exercise.

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Through the Garden Project, family child care providers work with All Our Kin staff to build raised vegetable garden beds in their own backyards. Providers also receive regular visits from an educational consultant, who helps them learn how to garden and coaches around using the outdoors as an educational tool. As a result, children, from a very young age, gain valuable nature-based learning experiences and are introduced to fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. And the impact on family child care programs, and the children and families they serve, is long-lasting.

Years after participation in the Garden Project, Gamila, a family child care educator in West Haven, continues to incorporate a strong garden curriculum in her program. Every year, she engages the families in her program, assigning them a garden plot and allowing them to choose the types of seeds they would like to plant. Parents and their children 133.JPGgarden together, doing the watering and harvesting during drop-off and pick-up times. For Gamila’s program, the importance of the garden extends beyond the experience for the children: the garden builds community, it facilitates a two-generation learning experience, and it provides an additional food source for families.

Garden Project participants like Gamila know what journalist and author Richard Louv writes about at length–that allowing children to learn about, grow in, and explore nature is imperative to their wellbeing. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv compiles research on children who are allowed to play freely in nature, noting that “Children used more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness.” In other publications, he explores the often missing “vitamin N” as he calls it, referring to exposure to nature. The overarching theme of his work resonates with the mission of our Garden Project: that time spent in nature has broad implications for the wellbeing of children, communities, and humanity.

With all that said, spring is a great time to get children outside to enjoy the warmer8-29-2014 014 weather and explore nature. Here are a few of our go-to tips for successful outdoor play:

  • Bring plenty of water and delicious, healthy snacks!
  • Use sunblock and natural bug spray.
  • Always do a tick check after coming back from wooded areas or a thick meadow.

For ideas on how to engage children outside, check out the Living Schoolyard Activity Guide. The Guide includes 30 activities to do outside with children of any age, and features two activities for infants, toddlers, and young children led by All Our Kin family child care providers Felicitas Castellanos and Maria (Pili) Carrillo.

Enjoy exploring the great outdoors and discovering the endless possibilities for nature-based play and learning with the children in your life!

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