Why Our Kids Need to Play Outside

active outdoor play on the lakeshore

While it’s important for us adults to get outside and be active, it’s even more important for our kids to play outside.

There’s a growing body of research from all over the world on the benefits of active play, and specifically active outdoor play for children from a very early age on up.

Here are some of the benefits linked to outdoor play:

  • Kids who play outside tend to be more physically active generally which…
  • Helps combat obesity all through life
  • It helps develop and refine large motor skills, especially important in very young children
  • Not just physical development, but brain development
  • It helps develop confidence…
  • Creative problem solving…
  • Decision making…
  • Self-regulation and other social skills when playing with others
  • Improved mood and emotional well-being
  • Active kids are more likely to be active adults
  • A large percentage of teachers and parents agree that kids who are physically active are both better behaved and better learners in the classroom

It’s interesting that some of the studies I’ve read talk about the difference between man-made outdoor play areas and natural areas.

One of the reasons most favor natural areas is because they’re more likely to have uneven terrain and obstacles that challenge children’s coordination and problem-solving skills.

Outdoor play helps train our kids to take calculated risks

Another very interesting topic discussed is the whole area of risk taking. Whole societies (like ours) have tended towards the false mindset that all risk is negative and to be avoided, especially if it could lead to physical harm. (A litigation-crazy society doesn’t help.)

risk-taking—jumping into frigid lake superior!
Taking a big risk: plunging into a frigid Lake Superior!

Even I—who spent my childhood climbing trees, spending hours on end in the woods alone, running across the rafters in our old barn loft, galloping bareback through the fields on a friend’s horse—tended to be overprotective of my own kids when they were young.

As parents it’s good for us to read things like this:

“…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…

“Through exposure to carefully managed risks, children learn sound judgement in assessing risks themselves, hence building confidence, resilience and self-belief — qualities that are important for their eventual independence.”

(Helen Little/Shirley Wyver article, “Outdoor Play: Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits?” published in Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 33 No. 2, June 2008, © 2008 Early Childhood Australia Inc.)

It’s about more than the obesity epidemic…

…although it’s childhood obesity that’s a major catalyst behind the research. Focusing on obesity would imply playing outdoors isn’t as important for kids in a normal weight range, which is entirely false.

(see the list of benefits above to review)

outdoor play on natural surfaces help our kids develop balance skills
Running and climbing on uneven surfaces helps our young kids develop their large motor skills

Here’s a statement from the (Australian) National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2006:

(By the way, why am I quoting from Australian publications when I’m American? They’re the ones coming up on page 1 on Google…)

Physical activity guidelines for both toddlers (age 12-36 months) and preschoolers (3-5 years):

“…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.”

Several hours daily of unstructured physical activity.

Why unstructured? I didn’t get that far yet, but, maybe because that’s what’s best for kids!

(If you know why…let us know!)

What’s good for your kids is good for you—and vice-versa…

…when it comes to being active outside.

When you do it together, or with another family you’re adding the relational aspect, too.

So many good, healthy things come from being part of our wonderful natural world. God designed it—and us—that way. Amazing.

why our kids need to play outside pin

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