When it comes to encouraging literacy skills, outdoor play is just as important for babies and little ones as indoor book- and toy-based play. When we think “early literacy,” we think of books, and storytime, and of sitting to either read or listen. We think of looking at pictures and telling stories with objects representative of the story’s objects (for example, a red ball as Snow White’s apple). What we don’t often think about are large (gross) motor skills and their part in literacy development.
Whole child development and well-being is a huge factor in pre-reading readiness. One important piece of whole-body development is called “crossing the midline.” This refers to learning how to do something on/with both sides of the body and learning to reach across the body to do it. What does this have to do with literacy? If a child won’t reach across her body to reach for a crayon, necessitating switching it from one hand to another to use it, or if she has trouble using that crayon to draw a single line across the entire piece of paper, she will be at a disadvantage when it comes time to learn how to write. Turning pages necessitates moving a hand from the right side all the way across the body to the left. Following words from one page to the next is a midline-crossing activity.
Common outdoor activities for toddlers and preschoolers give them opportunities to work on crossing the midline as well as strengthening each side (right & left arms and legs) as well as the trunk. These include activities like reaching for toys in the sandbox, tossing and catching a ball, touching their toes, climbing on a playground, or riding a tricycle. You can read more about crossing the midline and find more activity suggestions from an occupational therapist.
Other literacy-related advantages of outdoor play involve simply building body strength (to be able to sit independently), improving coordination (for turning those pages), and providing a new venue for imaginative play (that tree could be a fort!). It would seem that now’s the time to take advantage of outdoor play! Not to mention, all that fresh air might wear her out, so she will be ready to sit and listen – and hopefully fall right to sleep! – when it’s time to settle in for that bedtime story.