Thursday, March 17, 2016

Outdoor Play and Early Learning

Outdoor play is an important part of development for young children for a variety of reasons. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it is associated with greater amounts of physical activity in children, and whole body exercise has a long-lasting influence throughout childhood. Outdoor inspired parks can aid in the exploration of environments, and an amazing one is opening in the coming weeks in Washington!

Northwest Trek: Kids' Trek

Beginning April 2, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park will open a new play-space dedicated to outdoor play and learning. 

Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek.
According to a Northwest Trek press release, the new park is a nature-inspired playground that will provide plenty of exercise along with integrated lessons about how children connect to the natural world through play and awareness of the plants and animals with which we share the Earth.

Kids will slide, scramble, stomp, clamber and crawl at this unique play space. They’ll also imagine, explore, learn and connect with nature in a unique setting that integrates an appreciation of animals and plants into a variety of activities. Children of all abilities can enjoy Kids’ Trek, which is ADA-accessible.

Work has been underway for more than a year on the $1.9 million project, paid for with donations from the Northwest Trek Foundation, companies, individuals, grants and a voter-approved Metro Parks Tacoma bond issue.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek.
“Kids’ Trek is a link between our younger audience and the natural world, encouraging them to explore more,” Varsik said. “We think engaging children more closely in nature-themed play activities will help them develop a greater appreciation for the world around them.”
All the features have a purpose, Education Curator Jessica Moore explained, from the animal tracks ripe for identification to the collection of tumbled branches ready for creative tinkering. The idea, she said, is to provide opportunities for children to learn and explore. That includes periodic visits from the discovery cart—a mobile science station with magnifying glasses and activities.

Northwest Trek is currently open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Beginning March 18, Northwest Trek will extend its hours to be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission to Kids’ Trek is free with membership or a paid ticket to Northwest Trek. For more information, go to

Outdoor Play Tools at Home

If you live far away from Northwest Trek, you can still promote outdoor exploration in your early learning curricula or at home. According to NAEYC, the best tools for outdoor play and learning involve:
  • Anchored play equipment - such as swings, slides or climbing structures.
  • Natural elements - such as trees, shrubs, flowering plants and anything else you might find in your own backyard. 
  • Risks and challenges - equipment and activities that allow children to adventure or take risks (safely) such as logs or balancing beams.
  • Wheeled toys - such as tricycles, wagons or bikes (used with safety gear).
  • Manipulative equipment - objects such as balls, jump ropes, hula hoops can allow children the ability to practice object control such as throwing and catching.
See more suggestions for outdoor play and learning here: NAEYC Outdoor Play.

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