7 Health Benefits of Outdoor Play
It's no secret that plenty of kids love to spend time outdoors and play outside, but in recent years screen time and other forms of play have come more and more into focus. While technology and quiet time have their benefits and places in childrens' lives, there is something to be said for the more classic forms of outdoor play. Whether they like to go to the local playground, join up with their friends for soccer practice or explore the wilderness on family hiking excursions, there are so many ways for kids to soak in the fresh air and sunshine.
From the physical benefits to the mental enrichment, playing outside is great for kids in so many ways. Outdoor play assists in development and works to improve kids' overall happiness. Really, why wouldn't you send your kids into the great outdoors every day? While there are plenty of benefits you already know, some may be a bit of a pleasant surprise. No matter where your family stands, there are plenty of reasons to get outside.
1. Physical Activity
While this one might be a bit obvious, getting outside is great for any child's physical health. Kids have a lot of energy, and playing outside can help get some of it out. Everyone needs physical activity to maintain a healthy body — at least 30 minutes each day is ideal — and ensuring your kids spend time outdoors can instill that habit in them so they take it into adulthood. Whether they run around, play sports or simply scooter around, any a bit of exercise will get their blood pumping to promote healthy bodily functions.
2. Sunlight and Vitamin D
Sunlight is great for human health in so many ways, and making sure your kids get that vitamin D immune system boost is a part of curating a well rounded routine for their health. Kids tend to function best in the daylight — it can improve their vision development, mood and even their sleep schedule. While it's important to make sure they're protected with an appropriate SPF so as not to get sunburned or get UV damage, it's all about balance.
3. Improving Focus
Taking breaks for play throughout the day is highly important for childrens' focus in the classroom, and on other tasks that require concentration like chores or homework. One study shows that 95% of teachers surveyed agree that recess improves their students’ social interactions, and 78% agree that their students are more focused and ready to learn when they come back from their recess break. Just like adults need downtime to stretch and move, kids do too. Asking children to sit at a desk all day isn't realistic, and giving them time to move and exercise different functions of the brain improves their focus overall — in the classroom and beyond.
4. Developing Independence
When kids go outside, their natural curiosity and exploration shines through. Whether they play on a playground or simply find their way through nature, the outdoors is a place for kids to explore their imaginations and engage with a practice of self discovery. Through this, they can develop a stronger sense of independence and a more assured sense of self.
5. Social Interaction
While developing independence is a great benefit of outdoor play, finding a sense of community is another great benefit of spending time outside. Especially in spaces like recess, community playgrounds and public parks, kids learn to play together, work together and engage with one another socially. This is an integral part of child development, which is why it's important to socialize kids at a young age so they spend time exercising those skills.
6. Sensory Skills
Being outside and interacting with new and changing environments will inevitably expose kids to a variety of sensory experiences, which will eventually help them develop sensory skills and kinesthetic learning abilities. Being indoors can only offer so much variation in their surroundings — being outside, on the other hand, offers a world of possibilities. Kids can exercise the senses and have a larger wealth of experiences to draw from, which assists in their cognitive development.
7. Exercising Imagination
Just like being in new environments can exercise the sensory systems and skills, it can also exercise the mind and help to build an active imagination. Kids need space to play and grow, and with their already active imaginations, the outdoors offers much more to work with. When kids use their imaginations to the fullest, they tend to be happier, focus better and be more uplifted overall. Imagination is great for mental health and emotional wellness in kids of all ages.
Get Out and Go
It's no surprise that playing outside is great for kids in so many ways. When children are given the freedom to use their minds and move their bodies, they grow up happier and healthier overall. Each child is different, and they may all play in different ways. But one thing is for sure — encouraging them to find their outdoor niche will serve them well for years to come.