Children today are growing up in a much different world to the one we did. When we were younger, we spent hours riding our bikes, playing football at the park and generally having a good time outdoors. Weren’t those the days!
Today though, things are markedly different. For various reasons, children don’t spend as much time playing outdoors.
In fact, they spend upwards of 7 hours a day watching television, or on devices like iPads, tablets, phones or laptops.
These statistics go a long way to explaining why modern-day kids have a more inactive lifestyle than their counterparts from previous generations. Something which has led to a widespread concern about their overall physical and mental well-being from parents, health officials, psychologists, celebrities and social figures. One of which, former First Lady Michelle Obama, has recently launched a ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign.
However, believing that children need to spend more time outdoors, and understanding why, are two completely different things.
In this guide we will highlight the importance of outdoor time for children, to ensure they develop into independent, well-rounded and mentally and physically healthy individuals.
Why outdoor time for children is very important
There is no denying that children who spend more time outdoors, in and around nature, tend to have better physical, emotional, social and intellectual health than those who spend a lot of time on their devices.
Whether it’s a trip to the beach, a swim in a lake, a hike through the woods or just running around in a green space, the benefits are clear. Some of which can be characterised as follows:
Physical Development Benefits
For children of all ages, the benefit of regular outdoor activity is extensive.
As compared to their peers, children who spend a good amount of time outdoors tend to display the following attributes.
- Improved Overall Health
Plenty of outdoor activity tends to lead to improved health overall, as it reduces the risk of obesity.
In turn, the less obese active children are, the less likely they will be to succumb to conditions like diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea.
Regular exposure to vitamin D and sunlight also creates stronger immune systems and an improved mood.
Outdoor play is also particularly good for children with ADHD as it gives them an outlet to release their energy, in a manner they couldn’t easily do indoors.
- More Advanced Motor Skills
In general, children who play outdoors more regularly than those who stay indoors tend to have further advanced motor skills. Especially with regards to their agility, balance and coordination.
This is because children who play outside naturally tend to run, jump, throw, crawl, swing, hop, climb, ride and walk during this activity. This means they test out their bones, muscles and physical endurance a lot more than kids who spend a longer amount of time indoors.
All this outdoor physical activity combines to strengthen a child’s body and enables them to grow increasingly confident in their physical abilities.
- Lower Body Mass Index
In America, over the last three decades, rates of childhood obesity have tripled, to the point where over 33% of children could reasonably be classified as such.
This is because American children are eating more, and unhealthy foods, and while spending less time on physical activities.
Children who spend more time playing outside tend to have a lower body mass index than those who are generally more inactive.
Furthermore, if they have friends who enjoy playing outside, they are more likely to actually want to go outdoors more regularly as well – which is another contributing factor in them doing so.
For this reason, you should encourage kids to choose friends who are just as active as them.
- Better Muscle Strength
Whenever a child plays outside, they engage their muscles, which in turn leads to improved muscle strength.
Therefore, it follows that the more time they spend outside playing, the more they will improve their muscle strength.
Social Development Benefits of Outdoor Play
Regular outdoor play is also good for your child’s social development.
Children who spend more time outdoors tend to exhibit the following characteristics more than those who stay indoors.
- Greater Self-Awareness
Going outside regularly improves a child’s ability to observe the world around them and enhance their reasoning skills.
It also allows them to explore the world from a different perspective and improves their awareness of understanding the environment they are in.
This in turn enhances their concept of ‘cause and effect’ as they can see examples of it wherever they are taken to.
- Improved Relationships With Peers
As well as being more aware of their surroundings, children who play outside on a regular basis tend to form better relationships with their peers.
Outdoor recreational play usually requires teamwork and imagination with other children, which also facilitates positive interactions between them.
While it is inevitable there might be the odd argument about things like, whose turn is it next and how the play should develop, children will also learn about conflict resolution. Even if you have to be the one who mediates it.
Interestingly, some studies have also suggested children who go outdoors regularly are less likely to display bullying behaviour to others
- More open with parents and trusted adults
Often when in an indoor setting some children can sometimes become overawed by the noise, flashing lights and general volume of people.
This can lead them to feel intimidated and more subdued, and prevent them from conversing with their parents or caregivers.
When outside, children tend not to get as overwhelmed, as the sight and feeling of physical space helps them to relax more. This usually results in them feeling more inclined to engage in conversation with their parents or trusted adults.
- Greater Appreciation for the Environment
By spending more time outside, children learn to love the environment.
Whether it be watching a sunrise or sunset, seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, walking through fields of beautiful flowers or swimming at beaches, lakes or creeks, children who enjoy plenty of outdoor time growing up, tend to see the value of nature more.
As they grow, it follows they will enjoy these benefits of nature in adulthood too.
Emotional Development Benefits of Outdoor Play
Children who enjoy regular outside time tend to be stronger emotionally than those who spend more time indoors.
They also tend to process things much more easily and exhibit the following traits.
- More in Tune with All Five Senses
Children, especially preschoolers, who spend a lot of time on their devices, or watching TV, generally only utilise two of their senses. Namely sight and hearing.
As they grow, this could significantly limit their ability to disseminate and respond to any sensory stimuli they experience.
By contrast, children who have regular outside time tend to use all five of their senses, which in turn assists with their development.
- More Independent
The more time a child spends outside, the greater the sense of independence they develop. This is because they enjoy a feeling of freedom they generally don’t experience indoors.
Being outside enables them to explore their surroundings and partake in some low-risk activities without having parents monitoring their every move. It also allows them to enjoy imaginative play with friends, push their boundaries and generally venture out of the comfort zone of home.
Doing this will also increase their awareness of their capabilities and give them more confidence in going about their daily lives as they get older.
Intellectual Development Benefits
Many parents, particularly those of preschoolers, believe that learning is best done in an environment like an organised classroom or a local Raising Stars child care facility.
Whilst there are significant benefits in doing this, another great way to develop your child intellectually is to provide them with plenty of outdoor time.
This is because regular outdoor play has been proven to provide children with the following advantages.
- Improve Communication Skills
During their outdoor time children have a lot of opportunities to interact with other children they might meet in playgrounds or other venues, as well as adults, from lots of different backgrounds.
This in turn helps them to develop their communication skills, and improves their confidence, when it comes to developing friendships, and interacting with new people. Which is something they can also take into the classroom with them.
- Increased Brain Development
While kids are left to their own devices outside, they often spend their time exploring their surroundings and inventing games.
As well as developing their independence, these activities also hone their decision-making skills and organisational abilities. Causing them to work collectively with peers, as well as on their own initiative to problem solve, conceptualise games and devise solutions and ideas.
Additionally, the more they do this the more they develop an understanding about the importance of implementing and following rules.
- Expanded Learning Space
Being outdoors also provides children with an expanded learning space.
By putting educational materials and toys outside, it gives kids a chance to brush up on their skills through play.
This reinforces to them that they can learn in any environment, and not just in a classroom, or other indoor learning space.
Things like keeping score while a game is in progress, for instance, not only improves their ability to count, but also makes them aware of the causal link between numbers.
While there are plenty of fun and educational games your child can play on their device, the importance of outdoor time for children should not be overlooked too.
As you can see from the list outlined above, there are plenty of physical, social, emotional and intellectual benefits to spending time outdoors.
So, at the end of the day, the onus is on us as parents, to ensure our children are getting a healthy balance between outdoor recreational play, indoor relaxation and down time.