The Physical Development Benefits of Nature Kindergarten for Children
There is extensive, worldwide research to support why the Nature Kindergarten philosophy of education is one of the most natural and beneficial approaches for a child. Learning through nature offers a truly holistic educational experience as it can improve all aspects of development, from improved physical & cognitive abilities to promoting social and emotional development. That’s not to even mention the immensely positive impact that outdoor education can have on a child’s health & overall sense of well-being.
In this three part blog series we will highlight the benefits the Nature Kindergarten offers to children in these three key areas. First up it’s physical development…
Gross Motor Skills
Research shows that playing outside for prolonged periods of time aids a child’s gross motor development, particularly in the areas of balance and coordination. Through the diverse range of activities at Nature Kindergarten, children get lots of opportunities to develop these skills, whether it’s developing hand-eye coordination through wood chopping and bark whittling or improving their balance as they navigate their way across the wobble boards or a tree trunk. Developing strong gross motor skills in the early years has big benefits for a child’s future development, particularly when they move on to school. Here gross motor skills are not only required for large body movement tasks (for example carrying a heavy school bag or throwing a ball) but also play a key role in a child’s ability to perform fine motor activities (e.g. closing coat buttons or writing letters).
Flexibility & Agility
Playing in the spacious, natural environment of Nature Kindergarten makes a child more supple and flexible as they are constantly using their muscles to run, jump and climb. The children also learn to adapt their movements and so they experience fewer injuries than children who engage in less frequent rough and tumble play. (Fjortoft and Sageie, 2000). Running on Nature Kindergarten’s naturally uneven forest terrain enables our children to become ‘sure footed’ and navigating obstacles helps them to develop strong spatial awareness. Skills like spatial awareness and flexibility are a big asset in to children in sport and other extracurricular activities and help them to stay fit and active throughout their life. The children at Nature Kindergarten also regularly assess their physical capabilities (‘Can I jump over that log?’ ‘Can I climb that high?’) and so are constantly motivated to push beyond these limits. As a result they become even more agile and grow in self-confidence.
“Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often”. (Fjortoft & Sageie 2001)
In the focus to get children academically ready for primary school, parents can overlook the importance of a child’s physical readiness for this environment. However in order for children to be able to sit upright in their chairs for hours, hold a pencil and navigate their way around a busy playground, they must also have developed physical strength and coordination. In addition to the five senses, experts have identified two lesser known senses called the vestibular and proprioceptive senses which are required to complete these kinds of tasks. For example the vestibular sense (which communicates to us about our head position) and the proprioceptive sense (which relays information about your body’s position in the environment) are both necessary for good posture, reading and writing and activities like walking on tip toes in P.E.
A child who does not fully develop these senses may experience challenges in school such as struggling to follow instructions, bumping into others during play-time, or difficulties with hand-eye coordination tasks such as cutting. The Nature Kindergarten environment naturally develops these senses (as well as physical strength, coordination and balance) through the variety of physical activities that a child engages in each day. As a result Junior Infant Teachers have reported that children who attend The Nature Kindergarten are often more equipped to meet the physical demands that school presents.
Stamina & Endurance
The children at Nature Kindergarten get lots of natural exercise each day which strengthens their bones and muscles, develops their cardiovascular system and builds their level of stamina. Stamina is important for good health at every age – without it a child will tire easily and find it difficult to perform certain tasks. Increasing strength and endurance also boosts a child’s metabolism, causing them to burn more calories even when they are resting. This reduces the chance of a child developing obesity – a condition that is becoming more and more prevalent in Ireland in today’s society. Building up stamina and endurance at a young age will encourage children to remain physically active as they get older and increase their chances of living a healthy lifestyle.
It is clear that the Nature Kindergarten provides huge benefits for a child’s physical development, as well as for their general health and well-being. These physical benefits also have a positive impact on other areas of a child’s development, including their cognitive and emotional development. Our next blog post will focus on the key benefits of the Nature Kindergarten environment for children’s cognitive development, so keep an eye on our blog and Facebook page for updates!