Melanie Wilkins is a full-time instructor at Blue Ridge Community College in the Early Childhood Education Department, a GetSet Transylvania partner.

One of the guiding principles of Brevard College’s early childhood program is “Nature Play” because of its many benefits to young children. Research tells over and over us how playing in the natural environment is good for healthy brain development!

As the weather gets colder and as we continue to take precautions from Covid-19, it’s so easy to stay inside. It takes effort for parents and caregivers to bundle up little ones with all the zippers, buttons, hats, boots and mittens. Here are a few tips for busy parents to encourage going outside:

Benefits of Getting Messy
Find a plastic tub or cardboard box to store all the “outdoor gear” near the door. Make a trip to the local thrift store for clothing and coats that can get dirty and stay dirty for a while. Exploring in the dirt and mud is part of being a little scientist! According to recent research, regular exposure to bacteria in the dirt can stimulate the immune system, keeping us healthier, and increase serotonin levels, making us happier! Dirt/mud is also a wonderful art medium for creativity (Community Playthings, 2016).

Nothing Fancy is Needed
Young children don’t need expensive gadgets and toys to enjoy their outdoor play. We’ve all seen a child who enjoys playing with the box instead of the brand new toy. Take a few large kitchen spoons and bowls to let children explore or save their treasures. Or, bring a few cookie cutters and show your children how to make art in the sand or dirt. Or, take a blanket and some favorite books to have story time outdoors.

During this time when we are practicing social distance and some schools/childcare facilities are closed, we need to get creative for some much needed “together time.” We’ve all read about how the pandemic is causing an increase in mental health issues for both adults and children. Young children’s emotional well-being is directly tied to the mental wellness of their caregivers (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2015). So, it’s equally important for parents and caregivers to have healthy connections with others as it is for our children. So, invite a friend, neighbor or extended family to bring a camping chair and children to play in your yard or meet at a local park. Interaction with others is key for social and emotional health especially during this season of isolation. Play in the leaves, the dirt, the mud. Get messy and laugh. We all need it during these crazy times.