The Amazing Benefits and Importance of Outdoor Play
for Children of All Ages
Most children love to play outside if given the opportunity, which in itself is a beautiful benefit; the joy and laughter they experience and the smile beaming across their face.
Knowing the enjoyment from the exploration is only the beginning as below I go into detail about:
12 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children
From developing strength and coordination, building independence and confidence, children learn of the incredible opportunities that playing outside provides and share it with us every time they lace up their shoes to go outside. They already know, and now it’s our turn to learn.
May 17th was the most recent Outdoor Classroom Day – a movement by educators looking to enrich the learning experience of children and love of the outdoors. While running Profound Play and Learning, we always took part in Outdoor Classroom Day (of which there are two a year – winter and spring) when the weather allowed, spending our entire day outside.
With yesterday being Outdoor Classroom Day, Little Bee and I still wanted to make it a special part of our day so we packed up a bag and took our play outside. We always incorporate outdoor play in our day but for a special day like this, we try to spend the entire day outside to really bring home the idea of the benefits of outdoor play.
What is Outdoor Play?
For Little Bee, outdoor play is fun and freedom, a wide open space with room to spin with arms spread, welcoming the sun, rain, snow and wind. Building confidence, coordination, strength and understanding, Little Bee is learning to appreciate the outside world through physical and mental play and development.
12 Benefits of Playing Outside for Children
- Physical Health – I think this one would be a clear benefit for anyone who has ever watched a child play outside. They are non-stop movement, with room to spread their wings and the urgency to run, dance, move and spin. All of this activity works to build their strength in muscles and bones, gets their heart pumping and blood moving, gives them the ever important fresh air to fill their lungs and Vitamin D for their growing bodies. Practicing those skills in fine and gross motor development, balance, flexibility, and coordination while encouraging exercise and enjoyment of the outdoors.
- Mental Health and Wellbeing – Children who are able to shake out their sillies and be the natural investigators they are in the outdoors tend to be happier and more resilient people. Burning off the energy that is wound up inside these little people all day allows them to concentrate, and be more relaxed (which supports classroom success and behaviour) in addition to those feelings of happiness.
Improves Sleep – A third of school-aged children in Canada are sleep deprived, according to a 2016 ParticipAction report card, which states that a sedentary lifestyle and too much screen time are to blame. According to another 2016 study, published in Acta Paediatrica, longer screen time is greatly associated with shorter nocturnal sleep duration among two- to five-year-olds. It found late bedtimes and poor quality of sleep lead to hyperactivity, depression and obesity, as well as stunted physical growth and lower IQ scores. But there’s a simple fix: That same study found that kids who had more outdoor playtime were less likely to wake at night. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate sleep patterns, and physical activity helps children fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. Dietze saw this first-hand at a daycare centre in Trenton, Ont. When outdoor time (including naps) was increased from two to six hours a day, it resulted in the one thing parents of daycare-age children want most: The kids slept through the night. (Quoted from Today’s Parent)
- Independence – Often when playing inside, children feel they need someone to play with them which can be tricky for moms who are also trying to accomplish a few things on their to-do list. Opening up to the space of the outdoors often encourages little ones to push beyond the normal distance of adult involvement and become engaged in an activity all on their own. Pouring water, digging in the mud, poking sticks in freshly dug holes, gathering flowers, all becomes quiet, focused activity. Even while playing with others in a running game, hide and seek or group activity, children are often just far enough away from an adult (while still being safely observed) that they are led to deal with small conflicts on their own, work as a team with those they play, and take turns all on their own. The biggest of this that I’ve watched and felt so much pride are those moments when children pick themselves up after a tumble, dust themselves off and carry on in play.
- Confidence and Self Awareness– Playing outdoors allows children to build on skills they are newly learning and challenge themselves when they feel ready. Relying on balance and coordination, children can actively build confidence in their bodies and minds. They can feel proud of themselves and their ability to accomplish something they felt was beyond their reach just days before.
- Education – As a strong believer in learning through play, being out in the fresh air and sunshine (or even clouds and rain or snow) children are keen to investigate and navigate their surroundings and use new tools in their play such as rocks, sticks, mud, grass and snow. This also helps to promote the idea to children that play is valuable, that it can be done anywhere, and doesn’t require traditional toys.
- Endless Play Opportunities – Parks well known or new to you, yard, field, gravel, dirt, gardens, school grounds, downtown (safely with adults nearby), a friend’s house, church grounds or community spaces, hiking trails, farms (with invitation), ponds and lakes, all offer incredible adventures and learning opportunities.
- STEAM Learning – Born scientists and explorers, the outdoors provides wonderful opportunities to intrigue growing minds and passions. No matter how big or small the discovery, I ask questions of Little Bee’s findings to encourage her to learn more about the world around her and to test out theories about what she already knows. Read more about STEAM learning here.
- Push beyond comfort – Encouraging children to push through hesitation in learning new skills, climbing a rock wall, jumping off a log, or flying down a swirly slide that is their own Mount Everest. Safe risk taking is a topic among many educators; providing those opportunities where children can gain understanding of risky play (falling from various heights, slippery conditions, rough and tumble play with friends) and learn of their capabilities with a trusted adult nearby.
- Creativity and Imagination – I’ve mentioned a wonderful book before Not A Stick, which is such a sweet, simple way to explores how wide the world becomes with the most basic of play things. Using nature’s toys, children are encouraged to create their own stories, and provide their own entertainment, unstructured and apart from traditional indoor toys.
- Social Development – Watching others play, being invited into a game, watching strangers act out their day, talking to neighbours and friends, all encourage children to apply those growing social skills that indoor play often distracts us from. Importantly here as noted above, children also learn how to work and function on their own, a very important skill through language development in expressing themselves to others, the power of their voice, and the ability to be mindful within themselves.
- Love of Nature – Taking in the fresh air, sunshine, amazing puddles to splash in, grass to pull and investigate, mud to create with, rocks to build with, logs to climb on, snow to dig through, the outdoors are filled with amazing and magical play things, learning equipment and tools for exploration. Even while sitting on a small hill, in the span of a few moments, we could see and hear birds, watch ants at work, see a worm disappear into the dirt and hear a nearby dog call out a request for attention. During a walk, we enjoy the water (and of course throwing rocks in to watch the ripples), hear the hooves of horses, and take in all that we don’t see in our own back yard. Each trip offers something new, even if going to the same places on different days (check out this link for a free downloadable scavenger hunt!). The outdoor classroom is the very best one and allows us to connect with nature with a science lessons around every corner, under every leaf and within every shadow.
When children are pushed in a swing, or when they propel a swing themselves, they engage all of their muscles to hold on, balance and coordinate their body to the rhythm of moving back and forth. Swinging provides children with first-hand knowledge and experience of cause and effect and of understanding spatial learning, such as up and down and back and forth. Also, while swinging, children get a chance to see the world from a new perspective. ~ Fisher Price
Playing outside each day has become a part of our regular routine and is a welcomed part of each day. Some days this process takes longer with layers of winter wear, and others after a slather of sunscreen (this is our favourite) we are ready to run out barefoot. No matter the weather, we are ready and willing to be a part of the outdoors although I will gladly admit that those summer days splashing in water are by far my favourite.
Using special days to draw attention to how lucky we are to have an Outdoor Classroom all around us, such as a picnic or hike, or Outdoor Classroom Day, makes play outdoors meaningful and promotes meaningful conversation with Little Bee and I; moments and memories being built each time.
Although I try and take photos when I can, I often get lost in the play myself or am covered in paint or mud so don’t take out the camera or phone. I should try and make a better effort to capture these moments.
What do you like to do outside with your little ones? Do you venture out on even those not-so-nice days or do you prefer sunny weather? I would love to hear
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