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The importance of the link between nature and child development could help parents help their young children with learning vocabulary during this period of lockdown, according to an Early Years expert at the University of Chester.

Deirdre Hewitt, PGCE Early Years (Primary) Programme Leader in the University’s Faculty of Education and Children’s Services has suggested that parents use their gardens (if they have access to one) or a visit to a local park (following Government advice) to help children with early reading. She has highlighted the positive link between outdoor activities and gardening with language development and learning to read in a recently published blog. Although the blog is predominantly focused on young children, much of it can be adapted for older children too.

Deirdre states that children learn mainly through play and suggests activities such as going on garden walks; playing describing games about flowers and insects and drawing maps of the outside space or garden.

Deirdre said: “Being outside in the garden offers an amazing opportunity for growth in language development and vocabulary, therefore, directly influencing early reading. The outdoors can offer a place of safety and relaxation, which are both needed for deep learning.

“Vocabulary development is not a case of simply saying as many words as possible to your child. A child needs to be able to say, repeat, play and understand the words for them to go into the long-term memory bank, and by allowing a child to experience using the senses, this reinforces vocabulary.

“You know your child better than anyone else and as their first teacher, you can understand the communication of your child, when others fail to do so. Speaking with your child is important, but just as important is listening! Children have an innate desire to be outdoors, but particularly with nature. Most researchers believe that young children are naturally curious. Children grow and thrive when supported to play, explore, discover.”

Deirdre said that being outside offers a wealth of opportunity for children to learn, even if that is in a relatively small space.

She added: “During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are all spending much more downtime at home, so why not make the most of this time to enjoy moments of peace; soak up all that the garden has to offer; sit alongside your child, eat, drink, sing and enjoy these precious moments.

“During the evening, and the next few days, recall, review, retell, sequence some of the interesting stories from the garden. The possibilities are endless.”

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