Why Do Children Need Outdoor Play?

Allowing the kids to play outdoors is important for the proper development of cognitive abilities and interpersonal communication skills. Outdoor play also makes the kids more independent and helps them with learning about the environment.

If you are like most parents, you probably know that kids are spending more time indoors glued on television screens and video games than they do to outdoor play. The increasing decline in the number of active kids is a major concern for health experts around the world.  Most parents agree that they want their kids to be physically active, healthy, and well-rounded individuals. Unfortunately, the only way of achieving these goals is by encouraging them to spend more time playing outdoors.

So, why do children need outdoor play? Outdoor recreation is a critical part of childhood.  Many of the developmental tasks that kids must achieve such as risk-taking, exploring, and brain development can only be accomplished through outdoor play. Furthermore, promoting outdoor play allows them to explore the environment more, get fresh air and learn how to take care of their surroundings. The hands-on outdoor activities stimulate their senses through what they touch, feel, hear, and see. 

By encouraging your young ones to spend more time outdoors and away from the digital devices, you are not only aiding the kid’s physical wellbeing, but also playing a critical role in improving their emotional and intellectual wellbeing.

Read on to find out some of the critical reasons why children need more outdoor play.

1. Improved Motor Skills

The only place where your children can run, jump, throw balls, pull things, lift and carry objects and do all sorts of things is outdoors. The controlled indoor environment limits their ability to explore and try out new things.

With the increased rate of activity outdoors, children tend to develop more advanced motor skills compared to their peers who spend most of their time indoors. When playing outside, kids also get engaged in simple aerobic exercises and gain valuable motor skills while pulling or pushing the outdoor play equipment.

Scientific research shows that children tend to burn more calories when playing outdoors than when they are indoors. This helps to lower their risk of developing obesity by strengthening their muscles and bones.

Kids running happily.
They become more confident in their movements and improve their decision-making abilities.

Playing outside in the sun also helps them to absorb more of vitamin D needed for strong bones. By allowing children to test and stretch their physical abilities, they also become more confident in their movements and improve their decision-making abilities.

2. Lowers Body Mass Index

In 1980, only seven percent of kids in the world were considered obese. Approximately 40 years later, research shows that at least one in every three kids is obese. The primary reason behind the sudden increase in the numbers is a drastic change in our lifestyles.

Today, more and more kids are fed unhealthy food and discouraged to participate in outdoor play. Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop obesity because they are physically active and burn a lot of calories compared to their indoor counterparts.

Kids running on top of the old tires.
Outdoor play increases physical activity and prevents obesity in children.

Playing outside means kids are spending time away from their video games, television screens, and smartphones. It means jumping, running, walking, climbing, pulling, pushing, and generally burning more calories. In fact, there is a direct correlation between a child’s body mass index and the amount of time they are allowed to spend outside playing.

The longer the child is allowed to play outside, the lower their body mass index and vice versa. Therefore, if you don’t want your children to develop obesity and related complications, make sure you start taking them for outdoor play more frequently.  

3. Learning about the World

Outdoor play helps kids to learn a lot of things about the world.  How do plants grow? How does ice feel and sound? Do butterflies learn how to fly? Can a stick stand in the sand? Why are some animals dangerous? How does mud feel? Why do we slide down and not up?

Basically, outdoor play provides your child with an incredible chance to understand why some things happen the way they do. Much of what the child learns outside will stick in their head since it comes along with a lot of fun.

In the outdoor setup, children can learn ecology, gardening, mathematics, science, farming, construction, the seasons, vocabulary, the various times of the day, weather, and much more.

Not only do children learn about a lot of basic fundamental information about their surroundings in an effective manner, but they are also more likely to remember what they learned while playing outdoors because it was meaningful and concrete.

4. Improve Sensory Skills

An optometry and vision science research found out that children who spend most of their time playing outside tend to have better distance vision than their counterparts who are always indoors. Preschoolers, in particular, tend to learn a lot of things through their senses.

Think of the delight of a toddler when they consume a caregiver-approved berry from the forest (taste), see new animals and insects for the first time(sight), watch the water form beautiful puddles for stomping (hearing and touch) or stop at a bed of fragrant flowers (smell & touch).

On the other hand, children who are always glued on television and video games only use two senses most of the time (hearing and sight). This can hurt the development of their sensory and perceptual skills.

5. Improved Peer-to-Peer Relationships

When your children go out to play, they will meet other children and become friends. Technically, it means that they start being aware of other people around them who come from different families and backgrounds and will start to develop relationships with them.

They will learn how to form and sustain friendships. This is the primary reason why kids who play outside are less likely to bully their peers.

A kid having fun.
Playing outside with peers allows the kids to improve interpersonal communication skills.

Outdoor play requires imagination and teamwork, which helps kids develop positive interactions with each other. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be disagreements or arguments over whose turn it is to shoot a basket or go into the slide.

But, in general, children who play outside consistently will know how to get along with their peers even when there are disagreements. They will always work towards finding common ground. Soaking up the sunshine improves their moods as well and teaches them perseverance.

6. Helps Them to Develop a Sense of Independence

Playing outside can also help your young ones develop their sense of independence. Even though a parent or caregiver is always close by the entire time, children generally feel a sense of freedom and independence when they are left to play on their own in a playground.

A girl watering the plant.
The kids feel free and independent when playing outdoors, even when the parents are nearby.

They get the chance to explore and take risks without feeling like someone is on their neck. They can experiment with new things and figure out the results on their own.

They can invent new games with their friends, explore their abilities and figure out what they are capable of doing. 

The overall confidence that results from this sense of freedom and independence will help them massively as they continue to grow.

Every time they step out, they feel happier because they know that they can take risks and apply their problem-solving skills without annoying their parents/caregivers.

7. Allows Children to be Children

Parents must learn how to use playgrounds to fulfill basic childhood needs. Keep in mind that childhood is all about running, jumping, swinging, yelling, rolling, making big messes, hiding, and doing all sorts of crafty things. Childhood is never about television, video games, and smartphones.

The right things that can make your little one enjoy his or her childhood cannot be done indoors. Therefore, it is critical to take your child outside and let them have memorable childhood experiences.

Stop containing and controlling your kid within that small apartment when you can take them outside and let them enjoy their childhood.  The outdoor environment will help fulfill your child’s basic needs for adventure, experimentation, and freedom.

Children need an opportunity to explore the unknown, the adventurous, and the unpredictable. They also need to discover nature and figure out the things in it.  Such things cannot be done indoors.

8. Increase attention spans

Lastly, children who spend a lot of time playing outside are more curious, self-directed and likely to stay focused for longer periods. Kids who spent most of their time indoors with little exposure tend to lose focus much faster and fail to increase their attention spans as required.

Kids playing on the letter block.
Outdoor play makes children more attentive and allows them to keep focused for longer periods.

In fact, studies have shown that children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to show fewer symptoms when they are allowed to spend more time outside playing.

Outdoor play is necessary for a child’s growth and development. It’s an essential part of their childhood, and it’s possible anywhere, at school, in the park, or in your backyard. 

It’s so entertaining seeing your kids in their natural environment, how they find joy in discovering new things, and their curiosity about things around them. They learn several skills when they play outside, including physical, social, cognitive, imaginative, and emotional skills. Outdoor play also helps children stay fit and healthy. Playing outdoors may help fight obesity as well. 

This article gives you a more detailed look at some of the reasons children need outdoor play. Keep reading!

9. They Get Enough Sunlight Suitable for Children’s Body and Brain Development

Generally, people get more exposed to sunlight when they stay outdoors than indoors. This light is reasonably necessary for your child’s brain and overall development. Sunlight exposure can also help them develop and maintain healthy sleeping rhythms. It’s also a good source of vitamin D, required to regulate the amount of phosphate and calcium in their bodies. 

If you’re worried that your child doesn’t always concentrate as much as you want him to, direct sunlight can help. That brightness not only helps them concentrate but can also enhance synapses formation in their brains. These synapses play a vital role in your child’s adaptation to the things around him, learning, and memory formation. 

A kid peeking on the window.
Direct sunlight will strengthen your kid’s concentration and promote memory formation.

10. They Get to Grow Emotionally

Children need to understand their own feelings and that of others. Through outdoor play, they get to interact with other children and gain emotional development in the process. Also, they become aware of their feelings and express them appropriately. This development will surely help them later on when they grow, as they will be able to control their emotions. 

By sharing and taking turns as they play with other kids, your children can sort out their issues amicably by themselves without involving you. You need to let them learn how to control their emotions so they don’t lash out physically or verbally whenever there’s a misunderstanding. That is quite possible through outdoor play. 

Girls hanging on the playset.
Outdoor play enables kids to spend time with their peers, promoting their emotional development.

When they grow emotionally while still young, they’ll be able to make and maintain friendships in the future. It’s good preparation for future adversities. You’ll know how everyday life can be harsh and challenging. Knowing how to find peace and contentment helps you cope with every challenge that may come your way.  

Emotional development also enables children to become independent. By playing outside, they get the chance to take risks without feeling that someone is watching them. They can also see exactly what they’re capable of by exploring their boundaries. Besides gaining a sense of independence, they also become confident in taking risks, which is also necessary for growth and learning. 

Here’s another point that is worth mentioning under emotional development, utilizing all the five senses. A child must utilize all the five senses, hearing, tasting, touching, seeing, and smelling. When confined indoors, they can only use two of their senses, seeing and hearing. Outdoor play enables them to utilize all their five senses as they explore their surroundings. 

11. Outdoor Play Helps Children to Grow Intellectually

Children can develop their intellectual abilities both by learning in a classroom environment and playing outside. Through outdoor play, children can gain several advantages that help them to grow intellectually. 

First, it improves their brain development. While playing with others or alone, a child can invent new games as they explore the environment. Their abilities to make their own decisions also get ignited as they play alone or with friends. They design new games, set rules, and find suitable solutions to the issues that may arise. These new games and playing with others help them learn the importance of setting and following rules. 

Two girls on their bike.
Outdoor play helps children develop intellectual and communication skills.

Children’s communication skills also get improved when playing in the park or at the school’s playground. These are places where different children meet to play, and for them to understand each other and play successfully, they must communicate. 

Finally, it expands their learning space. It’s nice to know that you can learn anywhere else other than being confined in a classroom. For instance, children can learn to count in a game where scores determine who wins and who loses. These three reasons explain how outdoor play helps children develop intellectual skills. 

12. Improves Their Physical Development

Outdoor play will impact your kid’s weight, ability to fight diseases, and physical strength. It’s better to encourage playing outside when they’re still young so they can develop and maintain a healthy living attitude in the future. Here are some of the attributes that children will show when they play outside. 

Compared to other children, children who play outside usually show advanced motor skills. They get to move in unique ways that indeed challenge their physical endurance, bones, and muscles. These children can move in any way possible, as long as they are in motion, jumping, climbing trees, running up and down the hill, name it. They can also walk long distances, throw things, catch fish, crawl under trees and bushes, and swing. Giving your children the opportunity and freedom to play outside will help them discover their physical strength and capabilities and become confident in them. 

A boy on a red shirt.
Outdoor play is essential for children’s physical strength and reduces the risks of becoming obese.

Children who spend most of their time indoors are more likely to become obese since they tend to eat and sleep more, without the need to stay active. Being more energetic lowers children’s body index, hence saving them from such cases. Energetic children are always on the move, jumping and running around, helping them burn more calories than indoor confined children. If your child is a quiet type, you can start by bringing active children over to encourage them to play outside. 

Staying physically active also improves children’s overall health. Illnesses and conditions like diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular diseases can’t get near them. It also improves their muscle development and strength. 

13. Then There’s Social Development

Your children will also grow and develop socially by playing outside. Letting your children play outside offers a lot of social benefits to them. 

For instance, if you want to increase the openness between you and your children, always take them outside. For as much as indoors provides security, children constantly fight and compete with each other while seeking attention. If the fights get out of hand, younger kids tend to withdraw and become quiet. They will never tell you what’s bothering them. But if you take them out to play, they may open up and share anything you need to know. 

That overwhelming sadness will go immediately after they get the chance to breathe and move freely. As a result, children become more willing to talk to their caregivers and parents about many things, especially those that bother them. 

They also develop reasoning and observation skills, hence becoming self-aware about the space they live in. This self-awareness helps children to create long-lasting relationships with their peers.  They get to understand how other children feel and are less likely to bully them. 

Since they imagine things and work together with other children, outdoor play helps children form positive interactions. Even though there would still be arguments, they can always find common ground by working together, meaning that they’re growing up socially. 

Summary

One of the most important things you need to do as a parent is to encourage your child to spend more time playing outdoors. Whether your kid is one year or 12 years old, encourage him/her to ditch the screen and enjoy quality time outdoors.

Organize for weekend day outs in parks, playgrounds, or woods and be there to help your kid enjoy being outside. It doesn’t matter whether they are playing alone or with friends.

Outdoor play not only gives your child a chance to explore the natural environment but also teaches him/her valuable life skills and lessons that will help him/her grow into a responsible individual.

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