Often, people think of child care as a place where their child is dropped off to do stuff inside with other kids on a daily basis. There is a curriculum to introduce children early on to key subjects and concepts in preparation for starting elementary school. But, this perspective is changing!
Child care centers don't have to be an indoor place where kids briefly go outside to run around a playground before returning indoors to do more learning-based activities. Outdoor or outdoor-oriented childcare is popping up around the country to provide a more immersive, outdoor learning experience.
In essence, there is truth to the idea that you should "put more dirt into the child". Many children learn to have an innate love of being outdoors, interacting with nature, and learning by doing. Activities such as planting a garden and tending it every day provide valuable lessons that include:
- Scheduling and responsibility – plants have to be watered and tended regularly. Weeds have to be removed. If a plant is not watered and tended to, it will die.
- Basic colors – nature is made up of amazing colors in flowers, leaves, plants, and animals. Children can learn both about the flora and fauna in nature as well as the various colors.
- Names of plants and animals – children are naturally inquisitive and want to know what things are. It is so much more fun to learn names of animals and plants that they see in the wild than from books.
- Sharing and cooperation – many outdoor activities require interaction and sharing. These teach basic life skills that will serve children well as they progress through elementary school.
- Origins of food – too many children think that food comes from the grocery store! Allowing children to discover what plants are edible, how to grow their own food, or how to raise animals and tend them for food is a great learning experience. A child will never look at an egg the same way if he or she learned how to get eggs each day from the chicken coop!
- Love of nature – too often, adults avoid the outdoors because it is too hot or cold, too rainy or sunny, or just too uncomfortable. Kids learn by observing their parents and those around them. If they are taught that nature is uncomfortable, then they won't wish to be outside and experience it. A nature-based child care approach teaches that nature should be enjoyed.
Children who get dirty and experience the outdoors are much more likely to want to continue enjoying nature as they get older because of a greater connection with the outdoors. Even just bringing nature into the classroom, having more frequent and long nature walks, or encouraging exploration of surroundings outside can have huge benefits.
Contact a local child care center for more information and assistance.