Encouraging children to play outdoors is one of the best things we can do for them. In fact, it’s essential for their health and wellbeing.
There are so many advantages. When children go outside they:
- burn more calories, especially if it’s cold, reducing the risk of obesity;
- develop better coordination;
- develop better physical fitness;
- produce more vitamin D (vitamin D is important for good bones); and
- get exposure to bacteria and microbes that help boost their resistance to disease.
Outdoor play has even been shown to reduce the chances of near-sightedness, and improve distance vision.
But the benefits don’t end there. Outdoor activity has been shown to:
- reduce stress,
- help children develop better attention spans, and
- improve their creativity and ability to learn.
As a child grows, their indoor environments become known and familiar. By going outside, children are exposed to a dynamic and ever-changing environment. Outside they can follow their own interests and desires, they can freely express themselves, and they rarely need toys to help them.
There is just something about the outdoors that sparks a child’s natural enthusiasm and curiosity.
Outside Means Dirt
Dirt is good!
There is a growing body of evidence supporting what babies seem to know instinctively – that eating a little dirt is good for the body (and the brain)!
Researchers are concluding that the bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body with dirt stimulate the development of a healthy immune system. Lack of dirt is increasingly being linked to the rise in auto-immune disorders, allergies and asthma. Researchers now believe that, rather than being harmful, what a child is doing when they put things in their mouth is allowing their immune response to explore their environment. Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching their immature immune response what is best ignored.
Research is also finding that a bacterium naturally found in soil can accelerate learning and brighten moods by stimulating neuron growth and raising serotonin levels.
Dirt has even been shown to be good for the skin, playing an important role in combating inflammation of the skin when we’re injured.
These Benefits Don’t Go Away When It Rains
There’s an old Scandinavian saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
We can’t ‘explain’ rain to a child.
Children need to go outside and experience rain for themselves. When the skies open, the learning opportunities explode.
Rainy days help children to learn about:
- wet and dry
- dirt and mud
- hot and cold
- water sounds and smells
- puddles and splashing
- slipping and sliding
…and much more.
They discover the natural properties of the outdoors when it’s wet. They learn that it’s different without the sun (and suntan lotion), and they learn about monitoring warm and cold and wet and dry. Also, when they come inside to change they learn about self-care and dressing.
We feel that children have the right to be children and to explore rainy days.
But They’ll Get Sick!
Grandma says yes, science says no, and recent research says maybe…
In years gone by there was a widely-held belief that getting wet and cold could cause a person to ‘catch a cold’ (hence the name). The belief has held on tenaciously even in the face of modern scientific argument that the common cold is exclusively spread through direct exposure to a cold virus – that people get sick in cold weather not because of the wet and cold, but because everyone stays indoors more, and indoors is where infectious diseases spread more easily.
There has been more recent research on mice that suggests that cooler temperatures do in fact result in a more sluggish immune response and a higher risk of infection. In cool dry conditions our nasal passages may dry out and the mucus there is one of our body’s frontline defences against viruses. Cold weather is also thought to toughen the outer shell of a virus, making it more resistant to the outside environment. These findings have not been tested on humans.
The important thing is that it’s not rain that causes sickness. It’s a virus – and that virus may (or may not) be helped by cold temperatures. (The experiences of Denmark’s forest kindergartens would seem to disprove this, though!)
We can’t eliminate the risk of catching a cold from being in the rain any more than we can eliminate the risk of catching a cold from being inside the centre.
But the rain, and the learning, are outside.
How We Support Your Child Playing in the Rain
On rainy days there are new smells in the air, the ground feels different beneath your child’s feet, and there are puddles to splash in and mud to squelch in. There’s the feeling and the sound of the rain.
We encourage your child to get out and explore, and we support them by providing:
- raincoats for teachers,
- a partially covered area for children who wish to be out of the direct rain,
- alternatives for children who don’t wish to explore outside (it’s voluntary),
- a time limit to make sure children don’t get cold,
- fluffy towels, and
- a warm drink afterwards!
You can support them too.
If it looks like we’re going to have a wet day, please try to provide your child with:
- a raincoat or (preferably) waterproof one-piece coveralls,
- a change of clothes,
- rubber boots or gumboots,
- a waterproof hat, and
- big smiles when your child tells you about their adventures!
And maybe on the next rainy weekend, you could head outside with your child.
- Jump in puddles
- Make a water slide
- Play tag
- Have a water balloon fight
- Sing and dance
- Make mud pies
Get wet, and have fun!
“There are no rules to follow, no pieces to find, no parts to work. I don’t have to pretend to enjoy playing along or fake interest. My two-year-old enjoys the rain just as much as my five-year-old, just as much as the 11-year-old next door, just as much as this 30-year-old. Everyone is on equal ground, when that ground is wet and they are dripping.” – Kim Mower
Looking forward to the next rainy day.