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“These are going to be pink bunnies,” cried 6-year-old Elsa Winther, clapping her hands. After an explanation that they will not be pink rabbits – that in fact, all rabbits are born pink and without fur – the kindergarten returned to the classroom to discuss what they had witnessed.

As a classroom teacher for more than 20 years, the current kindergarten teacher at The Well School, a mother to three boys and a passionate educator, Pimental says these kinds of experiences, impromptu “teachable moments,” are why she believes so strongly in taking children outside. Pimental is not alone, recent research indicates that playing outside has health, education and social benefits for children.

A study from Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that when engaged in dynamic and varied outdoor play, a child encounters opportunities for decision-making that stimulate problem-solving and creative thinking opportunities that aren’t as easily found in the more static indoor environments.

Being outside also helps engage children with a variety of learning styles, says Pimental. Kinesthetic learners are excited because they are moving and touching and feeling things. Auditory learners can ask questions and discuss what they are finding, while visual learners can see what is being discussed, watch a parent or another child try and then try the activity themselves. According to the National Wildlife Federation playing outside can increase fitness levels in children, raise levels of Vitamin D, improve distance vision and decrease stress levels.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study found the average American child spends 44 hours per week staring at some kind of electronic screen. In an attempt to better understand the impacts of “screen time,” the American Institutes of Research for the California Department of Education looked at the effects of outdoor camp-like education programs with at risk 6th-graders. The study found positive gains in self-esteem, relationships with peers, attentiveness and willingness to learn.

Dams and Streams: After a rainy day the kids love to go outside and use sticks to make streams, says Pimental. They connect puddles by making streams and re-routing water. Then, she adds, it’s so much fun when they release the water and racing lids, sticks and leaves.

While they are building the waterways, Pimental suggests asking children questions that encourage them to self-reflect: How do we want to re-route this water? Which object do you think will flow down the stream fastest? Why do you want to connect those two streams?

“My boys love picking sticks they think will be the fastest, and then throwing them over the bridge to see which ones will come out on the other side,” Pimental says. She suggests asking children questions such as: Why did you pick that stick? Do you think it will go fast or slow? Why?

Gnome Homes or Fairy Houses: Children love to build these tiny little outdoor homes, says Pimental. First, children collect rocks, moss, bark, flowers and pinecones, and often bring in gems or shells from home. Then, they find a hole in a tree or a special spot in the woods and create comfortable homes where gnomes or fairies can live.

Or, she makes a visual list – a drawing – of items such as an acorn top, pine cone, maple seed, pine needle or flower and asks children to find the items. Once they have found all the items she asks the children to talk about each item, where they found it and why they picked that particular object.

Outdoor Art: Pimental suggests parents and children find interesting objects such as leaves, pine needles or flowers, and then either push the objects into clay, making an impression, or she has children lay the object flat and use a crayon to make a rubbing. Another fun way to incorporate art and nature is to use the found objects instead of paintbrushes, painting pictures using a leaf or pinecone, Pimental said.

Fort Building: “Kids love building hideouts or forts,” says Pimental. Use sticks or twigs to make teepees or lean-tos. Consider taking the opportunity to discuss safety with children. Maybe ask them what would you do if you were lost in the woods? Or, practice memorizing your phone number.