Importance of Outdoor Play for Younger vs. Older Children

Children today get plenty of time indoors, but as we know, children learn by doing. Outdoor play is crucial for the development of young children -- and it's also just fun!
Toddlers outdoors playing with bubbles.

Research shows that modern kids stare at electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, and television at least seven hours a day. In fact, many kids are more than willing to swap active outdoor play for more sedentary activities to the detriment of their quality of life and health. However, if you are like most parents and caregivers, you already know that your little ones need to spend more time playing outdoors.

So, what is the importance of outdoor play for younger vs. older children? The importance of outdoor play for younger children is often overlooked, but research shows that it’s essential to their physical and mental development. Studies have found that spending time outdoors helps kids learn valuable skills like problem-solving, communication, creativity, and empathy. Outdoor activities allow them to explore their environment and make discoveries without adult intervention. For older children, outdoor play provides a much-needed break from schoolwork, technology, and other indoor activities. Outdoor activities help stimulate creativity, physical development, and problem-solving skills. Kids learn the value of cooperation, teamwork, leadership abilities, and communication through social interactions with peers.

This blog post discusses the importance of outdoor play for younger and older children. Read on to find out everything you need to know.

Understanding Outdoor Play for Different Ages

Before diving into the importance of outdoor play for younger and older children, it’s essential to understand that different age groups have different needs. Consequently, different age groups benefit differently from outdoor play.

For babies, interacting with different aspects of the outdoor environment helps them feel comfortable. It helps them develop their motor skills and sensory input.

Furthermore, babies benefit greatly from outdoor play in terms of physical development, cognitive development, and emotional well-being.

Baby crawling on the grass with balls.
Outdoor play with your baby includes crawling on the grass.

Some ideas for outdoor play with your baby include crawling on the grass, watching the leaves and branches of trees move, listening to singing birds, or enjoying tummy time on a picnic rug, towel, or blanket.

Toddlers gain a lot from outdoor play since it helps them develop coordination, strength, balance, and spatial awareness. They also learn to take risks (under the guidance of an adult) and develop social skills.

Some ideas for outdoor activities for toddlers include exploring sand and water, playing with balls, jumping in puddles, and running around.

You can also blow and chase bubbles as they float away, walk, run, jump around trees, and play ball games.

A toddler playing hopscotch.
Some activities for preschoolers include making mud pies, playing hopscotch and building castles in the sand.

Preschoolers gain a lot from outdoor play as it helps them learn to share and cooperate with their peers. It also helps them express their emotions more easily, build language skills, and understand the world around them.

Some activities for preschoolers include making mud pies, playing hopscotch, building castles in the sand, climbing trees or hillsides, and counting items like fallen leaves.

You can also help them build a fort out of old boxes or planks of wood or string twigs to make a necklace.

School-aged children can also benefit from outdoor play as it helps them stay physically active, make new friends, boost their self-confidence, and develop problem-solving skills.

Outdoor play also helps them break the monotony of schoolwork and gives them an outlet for stress relief.

Some activities for school-age kids include playing tag, hide and seek, exploring nearby nature trails, learning to ride a bike or skateboard, or flying a kite.

Moreover, you can engage them in sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis, or baseball. For something different, you can host a family game night in the backyard.

Benefits of Outdoor Play for Younger Children

Now that we have discussed the activities that children of different age groups can engage in, let us look at some of the specific benefits of outdoor play for younger children.

Better General Health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the risk of obesity among children is on the rise. Obese kids are more likely to develop various health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and sleep apnea.

Spending a couple of hours outdoors with your baby can play a critical role in enhancing their mood and bolstering their immune system.

A baby crawling on the grass exposed to sunlight,
Outdoor play ensures your baby receives the right amounts of vitamin D necessary for their growth and development.

Children who have ADHD may also benefit massively from outdoor play since it provides a safe way for them to release unwanted energy that can cause them to create problems in indoor settings.

Outdoor play ensures your baby receives the right amounts of vitamin D necessary for their growth and development.

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption in kids, as well as increased muscle strength, better balance, and lowered risk of injury.

Improved Cognitive Development

Outdoor play can also contribute to improved cognitive development in babies. Research shows that outdoor recreation helps children develop problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills.

It also fosters the development of physical skills such as hand-eye coordination, balance, and strength. Outdoor play can also help bring out their personalities since some activities may be more suitable for certain kids than others.

Furthermore, exposure to nature helps build a connection with the environment and encourages kids to think more critically about their surroundings and the consequences of their actions.

Opportunity to Explore the Environment

Young children are naturally curious about their environment. Outdoor play allows them to explore and use their imagination to discover different things.

A kid sniffing the flower.
Young children are naturally curious about their environment.

This helps a baby develop an understanding of the world around them, which can help boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Outdoor play also allows toddlers to interact safely with other children of similar age groups.

Playing together helps kids strengthen critical social skills such as communication, cooperation, and collaboration. It also helps them learn to interact with nature in respectful and sustainable ways.

Improvement in Sleep, Mood, and Social Skills

Unstructured outdoor play helps children develop better sleep habits and improve mental health. Exposure to sunlight can increase serotonin levels, which helps combat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Outdoor play also helps children learn how to take responsibility for their actions and understand the consequences of their decisions.

They develop essential social skills as they interact with other children in the outdoor environment.  This is critical to their overall development.

Importance of Outdoor Play for Older Children

Like their younger counterparts, older children can benefit from outdoor play. In addition to the physical and mental health benefits discussed above, there are numerous other advantages to engaging in regular outdoor activities.

Improved Peer-to-Peer Relationships

Children who regularly play outdoors are self-aware, with increased awareness of other kids’ feelings. In fact, several studies have established that children who spend time outdoors playing with their peers are less likely to become bullies later on.

Imagination, creativity, and teamwork are all necessary for outdoor play, which allows kids to experience positive interaction with their friends.

Children who get consistent time to play outdoors are more likely to get along better with their peers.

Improved Problem-Solving Skills

Older children usually encounter more complex challenges during outdoor play, which helps them practice problem-solving skills in a fun environment. Outdoor activities require strategy, concentration, and collaboration.

This encourages them to think outside the box and devise creative solutions to issues they encounter while playing. It also boosts their ability to analyze information quickly and make decisions independently.

Greater Sense of Responsibility and Independence

Engaging in outdoor activities allows children to test the limits of their independence.

They can learn to be responsible for themselves and their actions, which builds self-confidence and helps them develop a sense of responsibility.

Outdoor play also encourages children to take risks and confidently participate in activities that challenge them physically and intellectually.

This can help improve their problem-solving, critical thinking, resilience, and decision-making skills.

Expand Learning Space

The classroom environment is excellent for learning academics, but outdoor play is essential to a well-rounded educational approach.

Children learn best when they have access to different learning environments, and outdoor play provides them with the perfect opportunity to expand their learning space.

The natural environment offers unstructured opportunities for exploration and creative play. This type of open-ended play encourages children to use their imagination and explore the world around them.

Build Resilience

Lastly, outdoor play can help older children build resilience. This is especially important for children who struggle in the classroom or with other activities.

Kids playing outdoors.
These experiences help them practice problem-solving skills, foster a strong sense of self-worth, and build emotional intelligence.

Outdoor play allows them to take risks, learn from their mistakes and develop a sense of accomplishment when successful.

These experiences help them practice problem-solving skills, foster a strong sense of self-worth, and build emotional intelligence. This can help them develop a greater sense of resilience, which they can use in other aspects of their life.


Outdoor play is essential for a baby’s physical, cognitive, and social development. It provides endless opportunities to explore their environment and gain self-confidence.

Plus, outdoor play helps older children build essential problem-solving skills and peer relationships. For this reason, it is important to encourage outdoor play in children of all ages.

When done safely, outdoor play can provide endless opportunities for learning, exploration, and connection with nature.

It is the perfect way to ensure your child gets the physical and mental health benefits they need for a successful life.

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

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