Why Outdoor Play is So Good for Our Kids

playing outside in the water

What was a given in my generation—daily outdoor play—(I’m a 50-something) is no longer a given.

In fact, daily outdoor play isn’t even on the radar for many American families. According to several sources like this article from LiveScience.com, only about half of our kids play outside every day.

But take a look at some recommendations from early childhood professionals:

“Toddlers…[and] preschoolers should engage in at least 60 minutes and up to several hours per day of daily, unstructured physical activity and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time except when sleeping.”

That quote is from a 2008 issue of Australia Journal of Early Childhood (you can view the PDF here).

Kids Need to Play

You can read through the Journal yourself for all the details but here’s an overview of the many reasons why our kids should actively play—a lot!

  • Play helps children learn about their world…
  • Gain important skills for later life…
  • Develop large and small motor skills…
  • Learn about themselves…
  • Learn to communicate and relate socially to others…
  • Develop creative thinking…
  • Develop problem-solving skills…
  • Help them learn to deal with their emotions…
  • Active play gives them a major head start in the battle against childhood obesity, which has become a world-wide epidemic in developed countries like ours.

Kids Need to Play Outside

And there are reasons why that play should be outdoors—a lot. Not only because of the known mental health benefits we talk about in our article Why Nature is So Good for Us. There are direct benefits for kids when they play outside:

  • The outdoors allows for much more physical activity than indoor play.
  • It allows children to discover and interact with nature.
  • Open-ended play in sand, water and other outdoor “stuff” opens their imagination and creativity.
  • The outdoors provides space and openness for kids playing together.
  • Uneven outdoor environments are ideal for kids developing their large motor skills as they run, jump, balance and climb.
  • Children learn by moving. They gain confidence when they get to move in settings that challenge them.

And speaking of challenge…

jumping into water

Kids Need to be Allowed to Take Risks

That same Journal has this to say about outdoor play and risk-taking:

“Although the term “risk-taking” often has negative connotations, the reality is that the willingness to engage in some risky activities provides opportunities to learn new skills, try new behaviours and ultimately reach our potential. Challenge and risk, in particular during outdoor play, allows children to test the limits of their physical, intellectual and social development.”

I think it was on Facebook that I stumbled on this article by Dr. Mariana Brussoni, a developmental child psychologist in British Columbia, Canada: Why Kids Need Risk, Fear and Excitement in Play.

Dr. Brussoni says: “Risky play is thrilling and exciting play where children test their boundaries and flirt with uncertainty.”

This type of play gives our kids:

  • More physical activity
  • Better social skills
  • Risk management skills
  • Resilience
  • And self-confidence

For more on risk, take a look at: OutsidePlay.ca, a collaborative website with Dr. Brussoni, University of British Columbia, BC Children’s Hospital and others.

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