Farai Harreld leading program to help get kids playing outside, learning in nature

A new program with a special guest educator will help get kids playing outside.

Fresh Air Fridays will take place each Friday at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, with special guest educator Farai Harreld leading instruction on the second and fourth Fridays of each month and Education Coordinator Lesley Hayward leading on the other days. Harreld is a post-partum doula, folk herbalist, urban homesteader, writer and caregiver. She was born in Zimbabwe and raised in Botswana before moving to Kansas. She is an educator on topics ranging from plants, motherhood, food, race, fashion, gardening and more and runs Faraiharreld.com.

The programs will take place rain or shine, as outdoor play is an essential part of a child’s day. Open spaces give the freedom to run, leap, explore, take risks and make memories. Play will be guided, and there will be different themes each month.

There is no additional cost to attend other than regular admission, which is $9 for children and adults, $8 for seniors and free for infants under 12 months and Discovery Center members. Admission also lets you play all day at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, outdoor play is vital to children’s growth for a number of reasons. It invites children to learn science through exploration, creates opportunities for social interaction and collaboration and also promotes physical health through exercise while helping to build motor skills. Additionally, outdoor play promotes better sleep, gives children a chance to take appropriate risks and leads to better learning outcomes once children return to other activities. Perhaps most importantly, it anchors children to the real world.

Playing in the elements is also an important part of the program, as weather is an important part of growing as a child. For instance, playing in the rain or snow helps with a child’s motor skills and balance and exposes them to different sensory experiences.

Other benefits of outdoor play include getting plenty of Vitamin D through sunlight to help stabilize a child’s mood and boost their immune system and giving them an appreciation of nature that they might not have otherwise gained being inside.

The Discovery Center has an abundance of opportunities for children to learn and play outside with several outdoor design features, including a 4.5-acre certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom and a native prairie grass and wildflower habitat. The Discovery Center also has installed several outdoor play spaces at parks and community centers across Topeka, as well as one in Marysville, Kan., that features design elements inspired by the city’s history.

For those looking for more ways to get their kids outdoors instead of sitting in front of a screen all day, another great resource is 1000 Hours Outside, a global movement to get kids playing out in nature for at least 1,000 hours of outside activity a year. The website offers free, downloadable tracker sheets to keep a record of how many hours kids are outside each day, as well as a free pack of outdoor activity prompts for each month of the year to help motivate you to get outside with fun activities. There is also an official 1000 Hours Outside app for both Apple or Android products, as well as other merchandise to help aid in outdoor activities.

The Discovery Center’s gift shop also offers merchandise that can help promote outside play, including butterfly nets, penguin and polar bear ear muffs, water bottles and other outdoor-related items.

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