There are so many benefits to playing with your child outside. From fresh air to outdoor exploration to practicing new social skills with friends and neighbors, the warm weather offers endless opportunities for you and your little one just beyond your front door. But the benefits of outdoor kids activities go far beyond just play; they can also help improve your child’s gross motor development, without them even realizing it!
Gross motor skills are often hidden in places you’d least expect to find them: climbing teaches them to use bilateral coordination (using both sides of your body at once); balancing on a curb strengthens their core; hanging from monkey bars strengthens their grip. These early gross motor skills translate into a solid foundation for their later years. Bilateral coordination is beneficial for sports and bike riding. Core and grip strength helps with writing. And all gross motor skills improve kids’ concentration.
“Children are constantly learning how their bodies move and work,” explains McKinze Hamman, an associate teacher at Vivvi. “By encouraging them to climb, run, jump, swing and roll around in the grass, you are giving them the chance to test out what their body can do in a safe way that not only builds their muscles but also builds their confidence as they gain new skills.”
Outdoor play may be a new skill for little one, and it’s filled with stimulation for the senses, so if you have a resistant child, go slow. If you notice they’re agitated by the feeling of grass, adjust their clothing to protect them. If intense social settings seem to overwhelm them, find quiet places for them to explore. And above all, show that you’re excited to hit the great outdoors. “Kids feed off their parents so the more excited you are, the more likely they will be to want to go out,” says Hamman.
Whether you have a baby, toddler or preschooler, there’s so many great outdoor kids activities to help improve gross motor development. Here’s a few of our favorites:
- Take them to a place you feel safe with them exploring the ground and let them crawl in the grass and pick up leaves. If you have a really little one, bring a blanket for them to lay on and just let them observe what’s around them while getting fresh air.
- Throw a small spray bottle into your bag and spritz their hands and feet with water. Some kids love this and some don’t, so read their cues and respond accordingly.
- Bubbles are such a fun outdoor activity! Small babies can watch them and swat at them, and then as they grow, they can try to stomp them with their feet. Bubbles are great and also help develop eye tracking, which is a pre-reading skill.
- Bring a ball to roll around. Let your toddler kick, chase and carry the ball.
- Toddlers also love water play. Let them use a spray bottle to “water” the flowers or trees, or bring two spray bottles and make it a game of spraying each other. Don’t forget to bring a towel!
- Let them take the lead (safely, of course). Hold their hand, and follow them as they lead you around a safe space to explore rocks, trees, or play areas. See what they are most interested in at the park, and plan your next play activity accordingly.
- Create a “scavenger” hunt. Challenge your preschooler to find things around the area. They can hunt for rocks, leaves and flowers, find a slide to go down, search for some stairs to climb, or find a curb to balance on.
- Let them be “in charge” and lead the way on a walk! Giving your little one a little power can make a big difference in their willingness to do things.
- Pretend to be different animals. Ask them to act out how an animal would move and watch them slither like a snake, jump like a frog, stomp like an elephant or crawl like a lion.
- Water play never disappoints, especially in the hot months! Offer them a stack of kitchen tupperware or clean recycled containers and watch them pour, throw and spray away.
Remember, the earlier you start to associate outdoor play with fun you, the easier it is to build healthy habits to carry them through the rest of their lives.