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Outdoor and Play-Based Learning - Concepts and Importance in Children's Development.

"Before we ever put a pencil in a child’s hands, those hands should dig, climb, press, pull, squish, twist and pinch in a wide array of environments and with a variety of materials." - Amanda Morgan

It is well known that the first five years of a child’s life are very important for later health and development. Early childhood experiences are essential in the cognitive, social, physical, and language development of children.

According to the Center on the Developing Child of Harvard University "in the first five years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second" Children's brain develops more and faster than at any other time in life. Therefore, Outdoor and Play-Based Learning plays an important role during the first years.

In this blog, we will learn more about the outdoor and play-based learning approach and the impacts it has on preschoolers.

Outdoor Learning

“Anything you can teach in an indoor classroom can be taught outdoors, often in ways that are more enjoyable for children.” ~ Cathy James

The Institute for Outdoor Learning defines outdoor learning as "active learning in the outdoors. In Outdoor Learning participants learn through what they do, through what they encounter and through what they discover." In outdoor learning children engage by going beyond the classroom establishing connections with their surrounding environment. It focuses on bringing the lessons taught in an indoor classroom to an outdoor setting, allowing students to have a more hands-on experience during their lessons.

Preschoolers learn by doing, and that is why outdoor learning brings several benefits not just for their cognitive development, but for their psychical and emotional health.

At Little Paws, children have math, literacy, environmental, and ecology lessons by the beach, the forest, gardens, or simply by a grass field. Children experience with their senses what they learn. For example, every Wednesday, we read about trees and plants. Children can learn about trees sitting under trees. They can touch, observe, smell, and even play with the lesson. Isn't it fascinating? The same kind of involvement can happen when we are practicing our numbers or letters. Students count the number of petals a flower has or realize that the first letters of the words beach and bee sound alike while we eat a snack by the beach and look at bees passing by.

There is no limit to the experiences and curiosities that outdoor environments and activities can arouse. Outdoor learning is more motivating and has a higher impact on the learning process of children.

Play-Based Learning

"Play is the highest form of research"

- Albert Einstein

The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development claims that play-based learning is " essentially, to learn while at play. (...) Two different types of play have been the primary focus: free play, which is directed by the children themselves, and guided play, which is a play that has some level of teacher guidance or involvement."

Children learn through playing. While playing, children are exploring, taking risks, engaging their imagination, solving problems, organizing, constructing, manipulating, pretending, exploring, investigating, creating, interacting, negotiating, and making sense of their worlds.

Playing can happen anywhere and countless materials can be used. For example, during our free-playing sessions in the outdoors, no conventional toys are needed. The "Mud Kitchen" is one of the preschoolers' favorites. It is a bag full of recycling kitchen materials like bowls, spoons, pans, etc. Together with materials found in nature, the mud kitchen is used to encourage free and collective playing incentivizing curiosity, and inquiry.

Doing play-based learning, we are providing opportunities for children to actively and imaginatively engage with people, the community, the environment, and themselves.

Brains are built and grow through touch, talk, sight, and sound in early childhood experiences. Outdoor and play-based learning offers children the ability to explore and think about the world around them. They are learning valuable skills that support social, physical, and cognitive development while having FUN.

Stay connected for more information about the amazing world of learning in nature. Follow us in Instagram:, and Facebook: , or visit our website:


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