Thoughtful Parenting: Outdoor Play

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Outdoor play is a staple of summer. Children laughing and running and digging and pedaling are heard and seen in backyards and playgrounds. While you witness all that “fun”, what is not as obvious is all the brain development that is occurring.  90 percent of all human brain development occurs in the first 5 years of life. The more active engagement your child has with learning by doing, the more neural networks your child will create and strengthen in his/her brain. Outside is a great place to be active.

Moving over, under, down, through, above, against, behind, towards a climbing structure or hula hoop in your yard or at the park gives your child a real grasp of the meaning of prepositions and geometry concepts. (For more preposition ideas go to

When your child has a chance to physically demonstrate action words like creep, bounce, plod, slither, soar, streak, waddle, hurry or scramble word comprehension is immediate and long lasting. This learning is meaningful, as opposed to being a list of vocabulary words or a collection of letters.  (For more movement concepts go to

Draw a map of your backyard together. Notice all of the plants, trees, structures, even sprinkler heads (count them), and place a representation of them on your map. Overnight or when the kids aren’t looking, adults hide one or more treasure item. Then mark the X on the spot. Draw a path around the yard, using spatial concepts, beside, over, under, around, between, allowing your children to use their body to make meaning of those ideas.

Bring nature into your child’s creative art. Take a nature walk and gather flat objects like leaves, grass, petals, small rocks.  Arrange them on a piece of absorbent paper. Use the small rocks to weight them down. Using spray bottles filled with food color or liquid watercolor (wear old clothes or a smock), gently spray the paper (careful to not drench it!). After the papers dry, remove the small objects, and decide where to display your beautiful nature print!  If you use a really big piece of paper, you could paint a family mural!

When it rains (let the monsoon afternoon showers begin!),- and no lightening or thunder  is present – go outside in your swimsuits and dance or run around in the rain, catch rain drops in your hand or in your mouth or into a cup or bucket. Then look for the rainbow!

Enjoy summer with your child! Making memories while growing your child’s brain – it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Tami Havener is Executive Director of the Family Development Center, which includes Discovery Learning Center. Discovery Learning Center is a child care center with preschool and prekindergarten classrooms. Call 879-5973 to learn about limited openings still available for the upcoming school year.


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