At Piccolini infants and toddlers, much of our time is spent enjoying the wonders of the outdoors. There is something special about being outside and enjoying the natural world as a child. My strongest childhood memories are of being in the big outdoors. Walking through the forest with my grandad to collect konkers, visits to the stream to catch tadpoles in my fishing net, playing hopscotch, leapfrog and hide and seek with my friends, roller skating, biking, whizzing through the snow on an old baking tray and making huts from hay bales.
Why is the outdoors such a magnificent and important place for children to enjoy? During the first few years, infants and toddlers are making sense of the world around them. One way they do this, is by soaking up all the different activities, sights and sounds they experience, which the outdoors offers in abundance. From our Piccolini garden, we get to experience such sounds as the birds singing, the pouring rain, the whirling wind with the trees swaying, vehicle sounds in the distance, various sirens and the crunching of leaves beneath our feet. We get to enjoy the feeling of sand between our toes and rain drops on our skin. We get to enjoy the warm sunshine on our bodies and study the moon. We get to stomp in puddles, make mud pies, create loud music with pots and pans, experiment at the water trough, take risks and challenge ourselves within our physical play, and so much more.
During the first three years of life, brain synapses form at such a rapid rate, based on the richness of a child’s sensory environment. By the age of two, the brain is about 75 percent of its adult weight. An inflowing stream of early physical experiences, sights, sounds, smells, touches and language, are so important in helping to shape the brain’s neural connections. Because the outdoors so richly and widely supports all areas of sensory learning (look, listen, touch, feel, taste, balance), it is so valuable in supporting children’s brain development in those crucial first three years.
Our role as teachers in the big outdoors plays such a valuable part in supporting children’s brain development. This is where they like to spend a large portion of their day. It is important we notice their current interests and set the environment accordingly. By describing and talking about all of the different sights, sounds and activities that the children enjoy, we are helping them to accommodate new skills, information and vocabulary into their existing bank of knowledge. It is important that we recognise the learning taking place within their play and respond to this, cementing that learning in their cognitive thinking. We need to think ahead and prepare the outdoors for play that is meaningful to children. We need to be responsive, asking open ended questions to stretch the ability of children to be curious, wonder, enquire and gain new knowledge. We also need to step back, allowing children opportunities to independently test limits, take risks, think and problem solve through trial and error.
What a wonderful treasure the outdoors is for infants’ and toddlers’ brain development. Whilst providing opportunities for the simplicity of fun and laugher within their play, it simultaneously provides moments for complexity of thinking within their play.
Enjoy your time outside with your children. If you would like any further information on brain development, please let us know.