Benefits of Outdoor Play

Do you remember playing in the “great outdoors” as a kid?  It was always fun to be outside with friends, whether talking, cycling, walking or playing games and sports.

Then, as time ran out or dusk fell, you knew it was time to go home for supper or get ready for bed. Or, perhaps your parents had to come and get you, because you were having so much fun outside that you lost track of time.

For a wide range of reasons, today’s children are simply not experiencing as much active, play time as their parents did. In fact, a new term is used to describe this trend; it’s called nature deficit disorder (Richard Louv, 2008).

Read on to learn more about why your kids should be outside more often, the value of outdoor time and experiences in nature, and what you can do to increase and enhance outdoor play for your kids.

What’s the Big Deal about Being Outside?

For starters, kids engage in more active play when they are outside, as opposed to inside.  Active kids are healthy kids, and outdoor activities are especially healthy for them!

Among a wide range of benefits, outdoor play is vital, because it:

  • Gives kids a chance to burn off energy
  • Can be calming and allow kids to “recharge” their energy levels
  • Helps kids learn to interact with and understand the natural world
  • Offers a chance for more social interaction with peers
  • Helps to develop their powers of observation and their assessment of risk
  • Offers more opportunities for creativity and free play
  • Helps to build a strong link between physical health and outdoor play, at a young age

Ideas to Increase Outdoor Play

In today’s society, the two biggest parent-identified barriers to outdoor play are “safety… and safety.”

You can play a vital role in your child’s well-being, while not giving in to false fears. One good way to deal with general safety issues or concerns is to teach your kids to “be watchful” instead of “careful.”

This type of small wording change or change in approach is one way to encourage kids to not to be immediately scared of a perceived or real danger, but to recognize it and deal with it.

One of the best ways to help make your area safer for outdoor play is to be active in your community and to walk or cycle often in the area.

It’s also very helpful to get to know your neighbours, including parents, families, other residents and neighbourhood kids. The more people interact with each other in a community, the more they can watch out for each other and all the kids in the neighbourhood. This type of community effort can go a long way towards supporting more outdoor play for children.

Try some of these other tips:

  • “Buddy up” with other families and take turns bringing a group of kids to a park, sports field, or green space.  Set clear boundaries and allow the kids to move freely and play throughout the areas.
  • Provide older kids with a family cell phone to take outside with them as they bike or skate around the neighbourhood or at the skate park.  Be clear that the phone is for emergencies only and not for “socializing” with friends.
  • Backyards can be full of adventure for younger children, Consider having a sandbox, water table or other toys and play stations. Create small natural spaces or areas where kids can build forts and create their own play space.
  • Allow your kids to plant a garden in raised beds or planter boxes.  Have your kids make all the choices and do the work; from seeding through harvest.

Keep in mind that it’s truly good for all of our kids to be outside more often!  This summer, make it a family goal to enjoy the outdoors a little more.

As a parent, provide varied opportunities for outdoor play, exploration and games.  Talk about it with your family and get everyone involved.

In your community, talk with your friends and neighbours. Take steps to make your community safe for outdoor play – work together so that more kids will be able to play more often, in the “great outdoors.

Outdoor Play

For some information on outdoor play read the publication by the National Wildlife Federation called The Dirt on Dirt

This YouTube video is about outdoor play using loose parts (or open-ended materials).  The Scrapstore PlayPod® is a holistic process that works with the entire school community to change both the human and physical play environment transforming play at lunchtimes.

Download a copy of the Ready, Steady, Play publication about the National Play Policy