Learning Through Play for 70 Years

The Importance of Being Outside

Catching a black bass right off the side of the boat without a worm on my hook.

Building an igloo with my family in our backyard the first time we ever experienced a snowstorm.

Splashing in a puddle in the rain and having my boots fill up with water.

Catching cicadas and then setting them free

Many of my fondest memories of my childhood are set outdoors.  There are so many things that you can see or do that can only be experience outside.  I was fortunate to always have time outside growing up, regardless of the weather.

Although it was a mild winter I think that we all are pleased to see and feel the warmth of the sun.  So often children spend time inside when it is winter.  It can be difficult to break those patterns when the weather gets warm again, schedules and routines have been set.  It is imperative that children have opportunities to get outside to play and connect with nature, even in less than ideal weather, but definitely in this nice weather.  Playing outside is beneficial to children in multiple ways, not just as a memory maker.

Children are able to work on emerging physical skills which they wouldn’t be able to indoors.  They are able to run, jump, leap, and gallop with few limitations.  Also, they can practice other gross motor skills with throwing, catching, and kicking balls.  At playgrounds there are other opportunities for climbing, swinging, pushing, pulling, etc.

Being outside in the light stimulates the pineal gland which regulates our “biological clock.”  It also helps support our immune system and helps make us happy.  Children who play outside are less likely to be obese.  Unfortunately, more and more children are being diagnosed with hypertension and arteriosclerosis at the age of five.  Doctors believe that if they spent more time outside as younger children this might not be the case.

But the benefits of being outdoors are not limited to physical growth, but social and cognitive, as well.  Often they invent games which are very valuable for decision-making, organization skills, cooperation, the importance of rules, number relations – score keeping and counting, and social skills of cooperation, turn taking, etc.

Children are better able to make sense of their world when they spend lots of time outside.  They can see how things grow and change over time.  They are more fully able to experience the world in which they live in.  This can be so powerful.  They are able to stretch their imaginations as they create worlds and scenarios to be in outside.

Many of us are fortunate to be able to just open the backdoor and our children can access the great outdoors.  But we are all fortunate in the number of wonderful resources the counties in the area have provided for us and our children.  There are wonderful parks and playgrounds in easy driving distance and sometimes walking distance of our homes. To name a few:

  • Burke Lake Park: With trails, playgrounds, and, of course, Burke Lake, this park makes it hard to imagine “civilization is within a few minutes.
  • Hidden Pond Nature Center: One of Annandale Coop’s favorite places to do field trips, Hidden Pond Nature Center has acres of undisturbed nature at its finest. Enjoy exhibits both indoors and out, and watch out for turtles!
  • Hidden Oaks Nature Center: Located just over the Beltway from our Annandale preschool, Hidden Oaks features a pond, interactive exhibits both indoors and out, and a maze of trails surrounded by natural forest.
  • Huntley Meadows Park: Stretch out on over 1,425 acres of forest, meadows, and wetlands. See beavers, frogs, dragonflies, herons, and many other native animals in their natural habitat.
  • Mason Neck Park: A Virginia state park, Mason Neck is a short drive away in Lorton, VA. With 1,825 acres, Mason Neck features hiking trails, several miles of paved (read: stroller friendly!) trails, playgrounds and picnic areas. American bald eagles abound!
  • Meadowlark Botanical Gardens: “Embrace the Beauty of Nature” says the tagline of Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, and it’s easy to do with this 95-acre complex of ornamental gardens and plant collections. View lakes, native wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and nature at its finest.
  • Green Spring Gardens: The “outdoor classroom” of local Fairfax county parks, Green Spring Gardens has something for everyone, from a horticultural library to forest ponds and streams filled with swimming, sliding, hopping nature.
  •  Clemenjontri Park: Hard to put a list of local parks together and not mention one of the top ten playgrounds in the country. Clemenjontri is a park “where every child can play”. Complete with accessible ramps, high-back swings, lowered monkey bars, and rubber surfacing, Clemenjontri is an amazing gift to Fairfax County residents.

Don’t forget! We also have Washington D.C. in our backyard with its large parks and the National Arboretum, Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and the C&O Canal. We also have National Parks to visit within short drives – Manassas Battlefield, Great Falls, Glen Echo Park Harper’s Ferry, Shenandoah National Park, and even more.  The opportunities to interact with nature are so varied.

So add to your child’s memory bank with great times picnicking under the cherry trees down along the Tidal Basin, setting up a toad home in your backyard, biking on the C&O Canal trail, planting a garden together, going on a creek walk and catching minnows, playing catch or whatever.  Just go outside and enjoy.

Article by Jennifer McClelland, one of our Teachers of the Two-Year-Olds at Annandale Cooperative Preschool.


  • Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
  • Hug a Tree and Other Things to do Outdoors with  Young Children by Robert Rockwell, Robert Williams, and Elizabeth Sherwood
  • Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Bharat Cornell
  • The Outrageous Outdoor Games Book by Bob Gregson
  • The Outside Play and Learning Book by Karen Miller


Annandale Cooperative Preschool in Annandale, VA is a certified Amazon affiliate. Purchasing the above books through our affiliate links helps you support a community non-profit school.