Growing Strong: The Emotional Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids

Outdoor play helps kids develop social and emotional skills. So why is it becoming harder for parents to find safe places for their children to play outdoors? This book identifies the benefits of outdoor play, explains why it’s important for health, safety, and academic achievement, and offers practical tips on helping children develop self-esteem, resilience, courage, perseverance—and even a sense of humor.
Kids exploring the forest.

Outdoor play is a crucial aspect of a child’s development. Not only does it promote physical activity and improve cognitive skills, but it also has a significant impact on a child’s emotional development. Studies have shown that outdoor play can help children develop social skills, emotional regulation, and empathy.

Playing outside provides children with the opportunity to interact with others, learn how to take turns, communicate effectively, and cooperate with their peers. These social interactions help children develop healthy ways of forming friendships and responding to physical interaction. Additionally, playing outside allows children to use their imaginations to entertain each other, which is an essential component of emotional development.

Furthermore, outdoor play helps children learn how to regulate their emotions. Being outside in nature has a calming effect on children, which helps them manage their emotions effectively. Additionally, outdoor play allows children to experience a wide range of emotions, such as excitement, joy, and even frustration. Through these experiences, children learn how to identify and express their emotions in a healthy way, which is crucial for their emotional development.

Benefits of Outdoor Play

Emotional Development

Outdoor play has numerous benefits for children’s emotional development. Here are some of the ways outdoor play can help:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels in both children and adults. Outdoor play provides a calming and relaxing environment that can help children feel more at ease.
  • Increased self-esteem: Outdoor play allows children to take risks and try new things, which can lead to a sense of accomplishment and increased self-esteem. Additionally, being outside and experiencing nature can help children feel more connected to the world around them.
  • Improved mood: Being outside and engaging in physical activity can release endorphins, which can improve children’s moods and make them feel happier.
A boy smiling on the monkey bar.
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels in both children and adults.

Furthermore, outdoor play can help children develop important social and emotional skills, such as:

  • Empathy: Playing with others outside can help children develop empathy and understand the feelings of others.
  • Communication: Outdoor play provides opportunities for children to practice their communication skills, such as negotiating, problem-solving, and expressing themselves.
  • Self-regulation: Outdoor play can help children learn to regulate their emotions and behavior in a variety of situations, such as when they are playing with others or encountering new challenges.

In summary, outdoor play can have a significant impact on children’s emotional development, helping them to feel more relaxed, confident, and connected to the world around them. It also provides opportunities for children to develop important social and emotional skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Kids playing with ball outdoor.
Outdoor play can have a significant impact on children’s emotional development.

Factors That Affect Emotional Development

Outdoor play has been shown to have numerous benefits for children’s emotional development. However, several factors can affect how much children benefit from outdoor play. These include:

Children’s Age

The age of the child can affect how much they benefit from outdoor play. For example, younger children may benefit more from unstructured play, while older children may benefit more from organized activities. Additionally, younger children may need more supervision while playing outside, while older children may be able to play more independently.


The environment in which children play can also affect their emotional development. For example, playing in a natural environment such as a park or forest can have more benefits than playing in a built environment such as a playground. Additionally, the quality of the environment can affect how much children benefit from outdoor play. A safe and well-maintained environment can promote positive emotional development, while a poorly maintained environment can have negative effects.

Kids having fun while playing soccer outdoors.
The quality of the environment can affect how much children benefit from outdoor play.

Social Interaction

Social interaction is another important factor that can affect how much children benefit from outdoor play. Playing with peers can help children develop social skills such as communication, cooperation, and empathy. Additionally, playing with adults can provide children with positive role models and help them develop trust and respect for others.

In conclusion, while outdoor play can have numerous benefits for children’s emotional development, several factors can affect how much children benefit from it. By taking these factors into account, parents and caregivers can help ensure that children get the most out of their outdoor play experiences.

Ways to Encourage Outdoor Play for Emotional Development

Provide Safe and Accessible Outdoor Spaces

Children need a safe and accessible outdoor space to play in. This can be a backyard, local park, or playground. Parents and caregivers should ensure that the outdoor space is safe for children to play in by checking for any hazards such as broken equipment, sharp objects, or poisonous plants. It is also important to ensure that the space is accessible to children with disabilities.

Engage in Outdoor Activities with Children

Engaging in outdoor activities with children is a great way to encourage them to play outside. Parents and caregivers can take children on nature walks, bike rides, or hikes. These activities not only encourage physical activity but also provide opportunities for children to learn about nature and their environment. It also allows parents and caregivers to bond with children and create positive memories.

Kids playing outdoors.
Engaging in outdoor activities with children is a great way to encourage them to play outside.

Encourage Unstructured Play

Unstructured play allows children to use their imaginations and creativity. Parents and caregivers should encourage children to engage in unstructured play by providing them with open-ended toys such as balls, frisbees, or building blocks. They can also allow children to create their games and play freely without adult intervention. This type of play allows children to develop problem-solving skills, social skills, and emotional regulation.

Limit Screen Time

Limiting screen time is important to encourage children to play outside. Parents and caregivers should set limits on the amount of time children to spend on electronic devices and encourage them to engage in other activities such as outdoor play. They can also make outdoor play more appealing by providing fun and engaging outdoor toys and games.

A boy sitting under the cloth while playing mobile phone.
Limiting screen time is important to encourage children to play outside.


Outdoor play is an essential aspect of childhood development. It provides children with opportunities to explore, discover, and learn about the world around them. Through outdoor play, children develop physically, emotionally, and socially, which are all important aspects of their growth and development.

Research has shown that outdoor play has numerous benefits for children, including improving their physical health, boosting their cognitive skills, and enhancing their emotional development. By playing outside, children can develop their problem-solving skills, creativity, and imagination, and learn to work collaboratively with others.

Moreover, outdoor play can help children develop resilience, self-esteem, and confidence, which are essential for their emotional well-being. It can also help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in children, and improve their overall mental health.

Therefore, it is crucial for parents, caregivers, and educators to encourage children to play outside regularly. They can provide children with safe and stimulating outdoor environments, such as playgrounds, parks, and nature reserves, where they can explore and learn. By doing so, they can help children develop into healthy, happy, and well-rounded individuals who are ready to face the challenges of the world.

Last update on 2023-07-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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