Playing outside at playgroup helps children burn off energy, gives them more freedom to make a mess and provides opportunities for imaginative play in nature. When the sun is out, they can chase shadows. On a rainy day, they can create watercourses.
To stay healthy, children need to be physically active and gain some exposure to the sun, the best source of vitamin D, all-year-round. For this time of year, SunSmart recommends two to three hours of sun each week if you live in Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Perth, Sydney and Canberra, and just a few minutes each day in Darwin and Brisbane*.
Each playgroup’s outdoor space is different. Some have natural features, such as shady trees, logs and rocks for playing under, climbing over and hiding behind. Some share spaces with a kindergarten/preschool. Others have small spaces with rubberised ground cover edged by low-maintenance gardens.
No matter what your playgroup’s outdoor space looks like, children will find adventures there.
Experience the elements
Dress children for the weather then give them the opportunity to experience everything the elements throw at them: the wind and warmth of autumn and the chill of approaching winter.
Let them pile up and stomp through fallen autumn leaves, splash in the rain, jump in puddles and catch sight of a rainbow with their playgroup friends.
Extend the experience by taking photos of what they do with their playgroup friends- both children and adults. Email pictures to each other to look at with your children and family or share them on Facebook if you have started a playgroup Facebook page. Print off and pin pictures on the Playgroup noticeboard to chat about the next week. Borrow some picture library books about rainbows, rain and puddles to look at the week after.
Let children feel the wind on their faces and blowing through their hair. Together, listen to wind whistling through trees. Talk about and look together at how trees and plants are changing as the days get colder. It does not hail often, but if it does at playgroup, put a plastic bowl outside to catch the hailstones then let the children examine them under the shelter or inside as they melt and change. If it snows, do more than just look at it through a window. Get out there and feel it on your face. Make a snow ball. Take some pictures.
Try an obstacle course
On a dry day, set up an obstacle course outside in a circle or line using things you have at playgroup or from home.
Try linking up a toy tunnel/big cardboard boxes for children to climb through with a mat for children to walk on. Then have an adult stand with legs open for children to crawl between and another adult crouched down low for children to climb over. End with a mattress to jump on- or, come up with your own combinations with different things.
Have two adults demonstrate how it works before you let children loose then each stay close to guide them along.
Have magnifying glasses at the ready for children to look for tiny bugs under leaves and critters crawling on the ground. Get down and help them look for snail tracks and lines of ants.
Offer small toy spades or recycled kitchen spoons for children to search for worms in the garden.
Put out small buckets or recycled yoghurt containers so they can use their spades/spoons to scoop up some soil, add a little water and make mud pies. You know you loved doing that as a child.
Enjoy the beautiful change in season!
*The Australian Cancer Council’s Sunsmart recommends different amounts of time in the sun for children’s early years, depending on where they live. Visit: sunsmart.com.au