Count the ways in which outdoor play benefits kids (and you)

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3 Girls play outdoor

Picture this: Your kids are playing indoors, and their unspent energy reaches levels too high for even them to handle. Their irritation with each other causes constant squabbling and bickering. As they play, the noise level increases, and you feel your mood shifting. You start jumping down their throats, feeling that you’re on the brink of cracking up.

Here’s the solution. Send them to play outside. They might object and have a dozen reasons why they would be better off inside. Put a time limit on it, say they must play outside for 30 minutes. My bet is you’ll likely struggle to get them back inside for dinner two or three hours later. It never fails; the moment they get out, they’ll start running around, spending all the pent-up energy. While all this happens, you can wallow in the descending calmness in the house.

Two girls arguing

Outdoor play is essential for growing children

Indoor play could never replace outdoor activities, and a daily fresh-air dosage is essential. Therefore, parents should insist that kids spend time at outdoor recreation each day. The benefits are more than you might think.

Physical benefits of outdoor play

Kids play in forest

The physical exercise children get from outdoor play is different from what they get from structured group sports. Instead of technology to keep them busy indoors, give them bicycles, scooters, pogo sticks or skateboards. It is natural for kids to want to master new skills, and their hearts will race very soon. Children challenge themselves to haul logs and sticks, roll rocks to move them, lug buckets filled with water. Give them shovels, and they will build forts, dig holes and design ramps.

Devon Karchut, a pediatric physiotherapist, says big movements stimulate their vestibular systems. These movements include jumping, spinning and rolling. See the vestibular sensory system as the controller of air traffic or the organizer of all their other senses. That means these activities benefit things like eye-muscle coordination, spatial awareness, balance, regulation and attention. Stimulating these senses is essential for children, and doing it with play is more natural.

Mental benefits of outdoor play

Kids play in Tree

Outdoor play allows children to have fun with few fixed rules. With no orders to be quiet, calm down and stay clean, they can do whatever they want — of course, within reason. Without a teacher or parental oversight, children’s imagination and creativity have free reigns. “Let’s do it” instead of “don’t do that” is empowering.

Unsupervised outdoor play teaches children to assess risks. Adults watching through the window instead of hovering over them gives them the chance to push their limits and try new things. Without an adult to stop them, they know that they are responsible for themselves. The lessons they learn will play a significant role in their long-term success.

Educational benefits of outdoor play

Boy play in mud


Without it feeling like active learning, this is what happens during outdoor play. The outdoor play area is like a giant bin, filled with a wealth of sensory treasures to unpack. They use the lessons learned from parents and teachers without even knowing. They apply the stored information and facts to their real-life games. For example, figuring out how pulleys can help with hauling stuff into the treehouse, and digging a trench and designing a bridge to go across it.

Similarly, they can experiment to find the perfect mix and consistency of water and soil to build a wall. Wintertime offers an entirely new chest of sensory treasures. They can see how sand improves traction on an ice-covered walkway and how a sprinkle of salt melts it. Figuring out how to prevent the collapse of a tunnel dug in a snowbank is another challenge. A significant benefit is the impact these fun-filled outdoor lessons have on their schoolwork.

Playing outside lets kids connect to the seasons

Girl blowing bubbles in winter

Children who play outside through all the seasons will notice the weather changes. Furthermore, personal experience will teach them more than any classroom or TV program about how changing seasons affect animals and plants. They’ll see animals spending the fall foraging food and storing it for winter. Similarly, trees that form buds in springtime, birds building their nests to raise their babies and eventually migrate, only to come back next year. Kids will become comfortable enjoying the outdoors in all kinds of weather and learn to dress appropriately. Who knows, they might even develop a sense of care for nature and share the concern about climate change.

Playing outdoors makes happy children

2 Boys running in park

When you finally get the kids to come inside, they’ll be tired but satisfied, with glowing eyes and cheeks. Similarly, parents will be happier after the calmness without chaos, noise and bickering. Work outdoor playtime into your daily schedule. Make an effort to take the kids to forests and parks after school or on weekends. You can take a book to read while watching them from a distance or ask a friend along to share a cup of coffee.

Make a resolution not to buy techno stuff for six months or a year to keep the children busy indoors. Instead, spend the money on things like a scooter, basketball net, shovels and other tools for making mud ramps, forts and mud kitchens.

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