The Importance of Outdoor Play for Kids
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The Importance of Outdoor Play for Kids

From getting fresh air to developing gross motor skills, encouraging kids to engage in outdoor play even during the winter can be extremely beneficial.

Even during the cooler winter months, outdoor play is important for kids of all ages. From mental health benefits, to socializing with other children, to developing motor skills, to soaking up natural vitamin D, spending time in an outdoor space is beneficial for children and their families. Aside from all of the health benefits of outdoor play, engaging in outdoor activities is a great way for kids to release pent up energy during the winter!

Children play against the sun

Why is outdoor play important?

Outdoor play is extremely beneficial for children - far beyond the physical activity it encourages. Playing outside helps kids socialize with one another, understand their bodies, engage in pretend play, and form a love for the natural environment.

It can be difficult to schedule time for kids to play outdoors during the busy lives of modern families whose schedules are often already packed with activities. However, playing outdoors is so beneficial that it should be prioritized to ensure every child's healthy development. School-aged children, on average, should have about three hours of outdoor play every day. This can be a challenge, especially when harsh weather is a factor. Any outdoor activity counts, so families should do their best to make sure to find time to enjoy the great outdoors all year long.


Child blowing bubbles

Outdoor play is important for two main reasons. 

Unstructured, spontaneous physical activity boosts the heath of kids. It can reduce the likelihood of childhood obesity and other weight-related health issues, as well as improving mental health and confidence.

Outdoor play can encourage kids to take a break from devices.

Little girl lying on bed and using tablet

Technology and screen time are severely impacting the amount of physical play kids are engaging in. When most of their time is spent playing video games or watching television, kids tend to spend less time getting physical activity and exercising all their muscles.

Scheduling time to engage in active play outside limits the amount of time a child can be using devices such as the television, smartphones video games, or tablet. The more time a child spends playing outdoors, the more likely they are to have positive engagement with their peers, appreciate the natural world, and develop a respect for the beauty of outdoor spaces.

Reducing the amount of screen time, even from a young age, can help a child enjoy more recreational play and reduce the risk of leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Playing outside can lead to improvements in sleep, mood, and social intelligence.

Cheerful ride

Time spent outdoors doing unstructured physical activity throughout the day can bring about many benefits, including helping children sleep better at night, increasing a child's ability to concentrate, and improving a child's overall mood.

Aside from the physical health benefits, playing outdoors teaches a child to learn how to socialize with other children. Playing with outdoor toys and creating games and ideas can help kids engage in imaginative play, cooperative play, and problem solving. 

Outdoor play can help children learn social skills and develop healthy ways of making friends and engaging in physical interactions. Kids practice motor skills while learning to use their imagination to entertain one another. Time outdoors can allow children the time to problem solve, engage in risky play, and build positive relationships with their peers.

When kids get lots of outdoor playtime, they can learn to interact with older children, practice decision making skills, learn when risk taking is appropriate, play popular games such as hide and seek, and make up their own games. The outdoor environment is great for younger children and older children alike! Kids of all ages can benefit by spending time in outdoor environments on a regular basis.

Outdoor play has many physical benefits.

Outdoor playtime benefits a child's physical development in many ways.

Outdoor play boosts a child's physical strength.

First, it boosts a child's physical strength as they practice gross motor skills such as walking, running, climbing, jumping, kicking, throwing, and swinging. Playing in outdoor spaces gives children the freedom to roam and explore, allowing them to spend time playing and even engaging in risky play.

Outdoor play, spending time in nature, helps kids appreciate the natural environment.

Time playing outdoors means a child is more likely to develop a healthy attitude toward being outside and appreciating the natural environment. As a break from structured play and time spent inside of a classroom, outdoor play allows younger kids and older kids alike to soak up sunlight exposure and get vitamin D, enjoy green space and plants, and learn about all the fun things to do outside. Children can learn to respect natural settings and appreciate the fresh air and sunlight.

Outdoor activities can lead to stress reduction.

When kids spend time outside, they can experience stress reduction, healthy brain development, a boost to the immune system, and overall physical health. Daily outdoor activity is vital to a child's healthy physical development.

Outdoor play helps the body produce vitamin D.

A child's body produces vitamin D naturally when they get sunlight exposure. This vitamin is important for the healthy development of bones and teeth, and it also provides improved resistance to certain diseases, making it an essential nutrient as children grow.

Here are some simple ways kids can engage in physical activity during outdoor play.

Even if you don't leave your house, there are many ways to enjoy outdoor play.

  1. Do a scavenger hunt. A scavenger hunt is a fun way for kids to enjoy the benefits of outdoor play. Kids can search for specific objects on a list, or try to find items that are a certain color or start with a certain letter, or choose an object for each color of the rainbow.

  2. Take care of plants. Having kids take care of a garden or just a few plants is an easy way to incorporate more outdoor play at home. From flowers to herbs to vegetables, there are many easy plants for kids to grow and take care of.

  3. Create an obstacle course. Make up an obstacle course and play games that involve running, jumping, climbing, stepping, or crawling under various obstacles in your yard.

  4. Digging. Digging is a great outdoor activity that takes little planning and is something that entertains most kids for hours at a time. Children can enjoy digging in the dirt, discovering worms and bugs, playing with mud, turning over rocks, and creating piles of dirt and rocks.

  5. Do leaf rubbings. Enjoy some outdoor time collecting leaves of different sizes and shapes. Then, put them under a piece of paper, grab a few crayons, and color over the paper, creating interesting leaf rubbings!

  6. Try a new activity. The benefits of outdoor play are extensive, so thinking of new ways to help your child play can be incredibly beneficial to a child's development. Think of activities that would spark your child's imagination, such as playing "I Spy," making up stories and adventures, creating scavenger hunts, making homes for bugs or birds, or coming up with new places to explore, such as local parks, outdoor museums, gyms, and other places that encourage time outdoors.

  7. Have outdoor playdates. Hosting outdoor group playdates can be a great way for children to socialize with one another outside of school or child care. Meet up at a local park, in someone's backyard, or at a school on the weekend, encouraging kids to play with one another.

  8. Do activities that naturally engage kids during outdoor play. Outdoor activities such as hopscotch, flower picking, red light/green light, freeze tag, hide and seek, and Simon Says are all fun ways to get kids moving their bodies outside.

Children need outdoor play time every day.

From getting important nutrients, to encouraging physical activity, to developing social skills, the benefits of outdoor play are extensive.

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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