How Does Outdoor Play Help A Child’s Development?

Outdoor play is more than just getting some vitamin D and fresh air - it's an opportunity for children to challenge themselves, learn about the world around them, and have fun! We explain how kids develop through outdoor play

Outdoor play is a very important part of childhood, especially when it comes to a child’s development. As technology becomes more dominant in society, the amount of time children are spending outside is decreasing.

There are studies that show that children are only getting an average of four to seven minutes of outdoor play a day! To compare, children today average about seven and a half hours of screen time with technology a day. That’s a pretty big difference!

While technology can definitely help or improve a variety of developmental skills, it cannot completely replace the benefits of outdoor play. Children should be getting no less than one hour of outdoor play a day.

Playing outdoors gives children a large open space to engage in active play which has a ton of benefits on their physicality, emotions, independence, and much more. Especially when you consider the negative impacts sitting in front of a television or tablet all day can have on a young child’s development.

If you’re still curious as to how outdoor play makes such a difference in a child’s development, keep reading!

Outdoor Play Increases Physical Development

First off, playing outside is obviously great for children’s physical development. Whether they are just running in a big open space or playing on playground equipment, they are doing activities that help build muscle strength and coordination.

The repetitive movements needed to excel on pieces of playground equipment like jungle gyms, monkey bars, and swings help strengthen your child’s muscle so they can build even more physical skills as they age.

A kid having fun while hanging.
Outdoor play promotes muscle development and improves kids’ coordination and motor skills.

In fact, children don’t even need fancy playground-level equipment to build these important skills. They can increase their physical development by also climbing trees, riding bicycles, or using a jump rope. Playing outdoors with anything they have handy is never a bad idea!

Not to mention, the sheer amount of space your child has to play outside gives them more room for improving their gross motor skills, no matter if they are crawling, walking, running, climbing, jumping, or even skipping. If you have to keep telling your child “no running in the house,” try sending them outside for a change!

And lastly, just being out in nature helps children develop motor skills. Whether they are using sidewalk chalk, playing with bubbles, drawing in sand, or any other fine, precise activity, being outside can give them a physical development boost!

Outdoor Play Builds Social and Emotional Skills

Not only is outdoor play good for your child’s physicality, but it is also good for their social and emotional skills, too! 

If you take your child to a playground, you are bound to encounter other parents and children of different races, ages, and genders that your child is more than likely going to end up playing with. And the more experience a child has playing with these different children, the better their social skills will be!

Kids having fun.
Outdoor play allows the kids to be socially active and teaches them how to be patient while playing cooperatively.

Playing with others teaches children patience, cooperation and teamwork. It also helps them learn how to communicate effectively, no matter what level of communication they are at. And there is also the possibility that your child could develop a long lasting friendship with the other kids on the playground if they see each other regularly! 

Not to mention, it has been found that children who play outside are usually less likely to become bullies. Win, win!

Playing outside is also a great way for children to develop the use of their senses. When playing outdoors, children are exposed to things that encourage them to use all five of their senses. This is a great chance for you to introduce sensory play to your child! 

You could even take them on nature walks where they can see, and possibly touch, different plants and animals. They can also touch safe sand, pebbles, and rocks. Let them hear the sounds of nature like wind blowing and birds whistling. 

Toddler outside lying.
Playing outdoors helps children develop a sense of independence.

They might even smell fresh flowers or mowed grass. If possible, they could even taste water and snow. And let’s not forget they are bound to taste the dirt every now and again. After all, kids will be kids!

Emotionally, playing outdoors helps children develop a sense of independence. When they play outside, they are sometimes taking risks and figuring out how to play on their own. 

And while you are certainly supervising your child as they do this, they know that the decisions they make while playing are all their own. They can learn to rely on their own judgements while also learning that not everything they set out to do will be successful. This sense of freedom just strengthens their independence, as well as other emotions, which will come in handy later in life!

Finally, playing outside is a great way for children to develop and exercise their imagination. Anything is possible outside! A stick may turn a wand or a sword in the hands of a child. Sand can be built into a beautiful castle and water and dirt and can be mixed into a potion. 

Allowing children to explore all these imaginative possibilities through outdoor play is an important building block in your child’s development.

Outdoor Play Ties into Overall Health

Outdoor play can also improve your child’s overall health! For starters, many studies show that children who regularly play outdoors are less likely to struggle with obesity. This is due to the fact that they tend to burn more calories when playing outside than they do inside.

Of course, this depends on how rigorous the child is playing. However, many studies state that a child can burn between 50 and 600 calories in just one hour of outdoor play. Jumping rope and climbing burn less calories while swimming, biking, and playing tag burn more calories.

A boy playing with his toy car.
Studies have shown that outdoor play minimizes the risks of different weight-related disorders, diabetes, and heart disease.

Not to mention, when a child is very active in their youth, they are more likely to be active as an adult. Not only does this help prevent weight gain and obesity in adulthood, but it can also help prevent other weight-related illnesses like type two diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Interestingly enough, children who engage in regular outdoor play have also been linked to a decreased risk of developing myopia, AKA nearsightedness. When children are outside, they are able to look across long distances instead of shorter areas indoors.

And while genetics does play a factor in nearsightedness and it can’t always be avoided, recent studies have shown that younger generations are experiencing myopia at a higher rate due to looking at close technology for long periods of time. So taking a break to play outside is always a good idea!

An added benefit of playing outdoors is a good old fashioned immunity boost! Studies have shown that children who play outdoors regularly have a stronger immune system because they are outside experiencing new microorganisms instead of their usual indoor bacteria.

It is a scientific fact that repeated exposure to these outdoor elements can help children build up a resistance to these organisms, especially when it comes to nature-related allergies. 

And, believe it or not, going outside when they are feeling a little under the weather can help their immune system, too. Getting some fresh air circulating through their lungs instead of the sickness droplets circulating in the air inside your home can help them get rid of their cold a little bit sooner!

Finally, playing outside gives children a good dose of Vitamin D. When exposed to more sunlight, children absorb more vitamin D which is good for their bone strength, helps increase their ability to fight off illness, and decreases chances of depression.

Additional Benefits of Outdoor Play

There are so many benefits to outdoor play that it would be nearly impossible to list them all in one place! But, if you’re not yet convinced of all the wonderful benefits of outside playtime, then here are a few additional benefits of outdoor play that just might make a believer out of you yet:

  • Children who play outside regularly are less stressed.
  • When children play outside regularly during childhood, they tend to have an increased amount of respect for nature as an adult.
  • Outdoor play tends to help reduce hyperactivity in your child by giving them a large, open space so they can release their energy.
  • Outdoor play has scientifically proven to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children.
A boy having fun on the swing.
Outdoor play enables children to release excess energy and avoid anxiety or even symptoms of ADHD.

Conclusion

As you can see, outdoor play is a very important part of childhood. There are so many benefits from playing outside that last long into adulthood. 

In fact, there is plenty of research that proves that children, as well as adults, who spend more time outside instead of in front of a screen are usually more happier than their peers who spend all their time using technology.

That alone should be enough reason to scoop your kids up and head to the nearest playground! It’s good for everybody! And who knows- your kids might thank you for it later!

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