While we all know homework is necessary for a child’s valuable education, spending time outside is just as essential to children’s physical and mental wellbeing.

But the majority of Aussie kids prefer indoor play despite the many benefits of playing outside on their mood, feelings of satisfaction, creativity and development.

With the school holidays right around the corner and the challenges of lockdowns and restrictions continuing to impact many Australians, Penny Whitehouse, educator and outdoor play expert, shares her tips to take learning outside, below.

As a working mum, I know it’s easy to slip into an indoor routine and let the kids stay glued to the screen. However, the published research – and my professional experience through 12 years as a wildlife and environmental education officer working to cultivate joy from outdoor play – confirm there are major benefits to kids learning and playing outside during their development years.

Nature play specifically promotes creativity, gross and fine motor skills and builds resilience.

In a generation of devices and pandemics, it’s important we remind ourselves that there are simple ways we to encourage our kids to play and explore outside.

Play Expert, Penny Whitehouse says there are simple ways to encourage kids to play outdoors.

According to new research from Claratyne, close to 7-in-10 parents would ditch desk-based homework for the outdoors if the learning outcomes were the same. However, nearly a third of parents admit they do not know how to help their kids explore outside.

And while the research shows many parents have forgotten how to play themselves, engaging in learning outside actually doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

Here are some alternative ideas on how to learn with your kids – whether in a park or your backyard – in a playful way that takes the pressure off families and reaps the benefits of being outside.

1. Take what they love outside.

If your child is really into a topic or theme right now, get creative and think of ways you can take it outside! Is your child interested in dinosaurs? Set up an invitation to play and encourage your child to play with their dinosaurs outside.

Ask simple questions like “How many dinosaurs are in the water?” If your child’s a little older and loves the game Imposter, for example, you might be able to play the game with them outside. For them to win against the imposter they need to figure out all the fractions that are found when you break sticks and branches into halves, then quarters, then eighths…

Get creative and think of ways you can take your child’s interest in a topic outdoors.

2. Embrace free play.

Not all learning has to be structured. Your children are learning so much outside without you having to lift a finger – how good is that? Of course, a few questions can help them think critically about a topic, but as soon as your child steps outside, it has the potential to contribute to their behavioral, cognitive, and emotional development, plus enhance their attentional capacity – which is good news for becoming a lifelong learner. So, sit back and let nature take the lead.

3. Take homework outside.

Many parents would agree that helping your little one with homework is not an enjoyable task – especially when they’re struggling at the kitchen table. If you want to make that easier, move homework to your outdoor setting or even to a picnic rug on the grass! Outdoor learning environments have been proven to show positive changes in student engagement and taking homework outside may support this too. Why not give it a go yourself?

Embrace free play with your little ones.

5. Design an outdoor play space that enhances learning.

If you want to promote a love of outdoor play and learning then invest a little in making your backyard a place where your child wants to spend time. Spring school holidays is the perfect time to do this!  Add a heap of plants, loose parts and outdoor toys and change the space up regularly to keep if fresh and fun.

Get the kids involved in planting, and they can even create a ‘Messterpiece’ with leaves and mud as they get dirty. If you have a smaller space, you will need to mix this up more regularly. Personally, adding a place to play with mud has been a game changer for us!

Create a ‘messterpiece’!

6. Take outdoor learning with you, wherever you go.

Why not spend time looking for shapes in nature while you’re walking to and from school? Or counting to 100 while your child enjoys the swings at your local park? Or mapping out areas and landmarks at the park to hide their secret treasure before embarking on a scavenger hunt?  There are so many ways to bring learning and outdoor play together in an engaging way.

To kick-start your creativity, head to The Outsideologist Project website for more playful step-by-step and easy-to-follow learning activities. The Project is great for busy parents as it offers easy to follow, ideas to get us all outside, thinking and exploring. Together with Claratyne, The Outsideologist Project aims to get one million Australian children and their families to spend just one more hour a week outside for better health and wellbeing.

* The 2021 Outsideologist Project survey by Claratyne is an exploration of parents’ opinions, roles and attitudes in relation to their children’s play and learning habits, specifically comparing inside activity and outside activity. The independent research by Researchify and commissioned by Claratyne surveyed 1,028 Australian parents of children aged 5 to 11 years old. The research was conducted via an online quantitative survey from 9-13 August 2021.