It is no secret to any of us that today’s kids are being raised in a world centered around technology. Kids are constantly in front of TVs, Computers, Video Games, and Tablets. We are going to ask you now, think back on your childhood. Did you have these things? Sure, you likely had a TV, but was there one in most rooms of the house? How often did you hear your parents tell you to “go play outside” or even hear “be home when the streetlights come on!” We grew up playing outside, and you likely did too. You probably have memories of being outdoors, running and playing with friends, or using your imagination. Don’t you want your child (or children) to have the same experience? There are so many great benefits to letting your kids play outside!
Nostalgia aside, why aren’t parents pushing for more outdoor time? Maybe it is more convenient to work from home and have your kids on technology in the house, so you don’t have to worry. Perhaps you are in an area where there is a lot of illness going around. Maybe you had a long day and want to relax by the TV yourself. That is something you can do together with the kids. Perhaps if you live in a high-traffic area, you don’t feel safe, and the closest park is a ten-minute drive, and you are really busy today. There are tons of reasons to keep kids inside, at home, and on technology.
The world is revolving around technology; it makes sense to immerse your kids in it to get them ready for the future. Right? Yes and no. We feel some of those arguments are valid. Still, maybe we should look at the benefits of playing outside that don’t revolve around making lasting memories. There are more benefits of playing outdoors than you would think. There are physical and health benefits, social benefits, emotional and mental benefits, educational benefits, and valuable life skills that can be learned by playing outside. We have only listed some of the benefits here. Take a look and decide for yourself.
Physical and Overall Health Benefits
Doctors at Harvard Health want us all to remember that playing outside is an excellent source of natural Vitamin D, a vitamin that is important for you and your child’s immune system, as well as calcium absorption and bone development.
It should go without saying that running, jumping and climbing are all great sources of exercise. Kids who run around will burn calories and fat, which will lead to a better chance of not having obesity. Climbing on swing sets is a great way for kids to build muscles.
How often have you seen your child take a nap after an hour at the park or in the backyard? Do they do the same after an hour of TV? Spending time outdoors is an excellent way for kids to burn off excess energy. Kids who burn off energy outside also have a satisfying mental benefit for you. Less chaos and running inside equals less stress for you!
If your child has siblings, encouraging your kids to play outside is great social interaction for them. If you only have one child, the need to create environments where they can build social skills becomes even more important. You can set up playdates with kids from their classes or even around the neighborhood. You can further the social benefits in the evening as dusk approaches. What is more fun than roasting hotdogs and marshmallows around a fire with friends? If it is summer, you can get nighttime exercise chasing the fireflies!
Mental and Emotional Benefits
We may not realize it, but kids get stressed out, just like us. Sanford Health has a fascinating article about how exercising is a great form of stress relief. The article also discusses how studies have shown that outdoor play helps kids grow their attention spans. Children diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) will have fewer symptoms than ADHD kids who spend most of their time inside.
If you have ever heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, playing outside meets all of these needs. SimplyPsychology.org is a great way to learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you are unfamiliar with the concept.
Photo from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Being outside and getting fresh air will satisfy your child’s physiological need for air. Playing hard will likely make them want to drink water as well. Playing outside is a great way for your child to stay healthy, which is part of their safety needs. Playing with siblings, friends, kids at the park, neighbors, or even you will satisfy the need for love and belonging. Running around without the constraints of a room will give your child a sense of freedom which helps your child’s need for esteem.
Last but not least, we all know how kids love to use their imagination. Are they playing a superhero today? Are they baking a mud pie or playing doctor because today, that is what they believe they want to be when they grow up? The freedom and ability to daydream and play satisfy their need for self-actualization. Even if it is only a few minutes a day or a couple of times a week, encouraging your child to play outside helps them grow in so many ways.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is correct when they say that outdoor play teaches kids science. Kids are naturally curious. When they see something unfamiliar, they will often ask what it is. This is a great way to teach them about your area’s natural flora and fauna! If you want to enhance their learning further, create a home garden together! Involve them in the planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting! You can turn it into a game – “let’s go play farmer!” You can teach them how sunlight and water make the plants grow and get into a different science lesson about any bugs, worms, or snails you find exploring the garden! After your harvest, you can give them a little home economics lesson inside by letting them help prepare a meal using your harvest. Then, you can go back outside for a fun picnic!
One life skill we mentioned above was growing your own food. There are other life skills you can teach your child while playing outside. Setting up a tent together (whether at home in the backyard or a campsite) is a great skill for your kids to learn. It might also help fine motor skills and initiate problem-solving skills. Going on a hike together can be a lot of fun. You can create balance challenges by standing on rocks, you can create a scavenger hunt, or if you want to teach them navigation skills, create a map of your hike together.
It’s true that school-aged kids have recess which is more often than not outdoors. This does give them a little bit of time throughout the week, but you can really maximize the benefits they get by encouraging them to play outdoors at home or on weekends as well. Playing outside doesn’t necessarily have to happen at home either. Home is the most likely outdoor play area outside of school but there are other places as well. If you are visiting friends or family you can send them outdoors to play so grown-ups can talk and catch up. They could go to a neighbor’s house that they have made friends with. You could take a family vacation to the mountains, the beach or the lake. Vacations are a great way to unplug, unwind and get outdoors. After school or on weekends you can walk to a local park. If there is not a park or playground nearby, you can always hop in the car together and find one. Parks and playgrounds are an excellent way to allow kids to run around, make a new friend for an hour, and use their imagination.
Kinser, K. (2019, May). Rocking and Rolling. Fresh air, fun and exploration: why outdoor play is essential for healthy development. Naeyc. Vol. 74, No. 2. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2019/outdoor-play-is-essential
Lund, D. (2018, June 26). Top 5 benefits of children playing outside. Sanford Health. https://news.sanfordhealth.org/childrens/play-outside/
McCarthy, C. (2020, Oct 27). 6 Reasons children need to play outside. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-reasons-children-need-to-play-outside
McLeod, S. A. (2020, Dec 29). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html