Getting outside is fundamentally good for everyone, but particularly for children in the early years…
Winter is officially over and spring is doing its thing, with signs of growth and renewal just about everywhere you look. Sunny days are making a regular appearance and we have even enjoyed a handful of warm ones, some of which you will no doubt have taken advantage of, enjoying a breath of fresh air with your young charges. Getting outside is fundamentally good for everyone, not only physically, but it is also has a positive impact on our mental well-being and plays a significant role in a child’s development, on many levels. And the great thing is, nature and sunshine don’t have to be something to travel to, they can be the things in which children are immersed the whole time they are at nursery.
Sunlight confers a rich array of natural health benefits, stimulating the production of a number of hormones essential for a healthy body and mind. It isn’t just plants that metabolize sunlight: we do too, via a complex bio-chemical process that converts sunlight into Vitamin D. More akin to a hormone than most other vitamins, Vitamin D is known to be good for our circulatory and nervous systems; is a potent anti-oxidant and is essential for healthy bone development in the young.
Exposure to natural sunlight also keeps our pineal gland ticking along nicely and synchronizing our biological clock. Melatonin production is essential for the regulation of our circadian rhythms and a good night’s sleep and has a powerful impact on our immune system. It is also a highly effective free radical scavenger and plays a crucial role in the maintenance of our metabolism and weight.
Perhaps the most direct effect that sunlight has upon our mental health, is via its stimulation of the brain to produce the mood enhancing chemical, serotonin. Serotonin aids our bodies’ management of appetite and sleep and also acts as an effective natural anti-depressant. It lifts our mood; inhibits our urges to over-eat and helps us sleep well. In short, it makes us feel good.
Early years settings have an important role to play in establishing a child’s day to day connection with nature; teaching them from a young age about the world in which they live and their role within it.
Exposure to nature has been found to enhance children’s concentration, self-discipline and behaviour.Outdoor play assists children to develop their skills as good, responsible citizens as they instinctively learn about team work, moral reasoning, social interaction, conflict and negotiation. Furthermore, natural environments are uniquely engaging, stimulating and life enhancing. They allow children to gain an understanding about their physical abilities and their relationship with the world around them. Of course, no natural environment can ever be made entirely risk free, nor should we want it to be! These risks are a fundamental part of childhood and, by gradually learning what is safe and what is dangerous (especially with regard to their own actions and behaviour) children develop their own risk “thermostat.”
A specialist eco nursery manufacturer, such as The Learning Escape, specifically design their buildings to bridge the gap between indoors and outdoors. Covered walkways allow children to free flow from inside to out while exploring and playing, and as the buildings are built on a standalone basis, the grounds and entrances can be made fully secure. Covered decked areas mean that, even on wet days the children can get a breath of fresh air: they are also great spaces in which to place the more messy activities such as sand and water!Full length windows and bi-folding doors, affordinggreat views of the building’s natural surroundings, not only encourage the children to go outside, but also provide staff with a clear line of sight from inside to out (and vice-versa).So, a careful eye can be kept upon your mini risk takers as they explore the great outdoors, soak up some sunshine and get the roses in their cheeks. As one nursery customer said:
“We’re always looking for new ways to get the children outside and turn them into adventurers and an outdoor classroom is a perfect solution.” Extract from the Angels by Day Nursery Learning Escape case study.