The Top 20 Reasons Why Kids Need To Play Outside

Every day can be a great day for kids to play outside! Outdoor play provides a huge variety of benefits which screen-based entertainment does not. Kids who play outside grow up healthier, happier and more physically fit than their peers.

Outdoor play is safe, affordable and available for just about every kid no matter where they live. Ready to put down the screens and head out for adventure? Here are the top 20 reasons why kids should play outside.

1. Improves Overall Health

Playing outside is a fun way to keep kids healthy. When kids are outside in a large, open area they have plenty of space to run around and burn off excess energy. Plus, kids can usually be louder and more rambunctious when playing outside.

Health benefits of playing outside are both physical and mental. Regular exercise helps prevent obesity while decreasing stress. Plus, exercise helps kids (and adults) maintain a healthy and happy attitude.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends kids between the ages of six and 17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day. They recommend the same amount for younger children, although vigorous exercise can be broken up into smaller sections.

Unstructured outdoor play is ideal for this type of exercise. When kids are allowed to run around and play their own games, they’ll naturally alternate between periods of high and low-intensity play.

2. Improves Physical Development

Active play and exercise help kids develop a variety of physical abilities including:

  • Flexibility
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Balance

Kids can run, skate, swim, ride bikes and more. Pretty much every type of physical activity has developmental benefits. Even pushing a young child in a swing helps them develop coordination.

Running around outside helps children develop gross motor skills. These are movements like sitting up, walking and other actions involving the legs, arms, torso, and feet. Navigating uneven outdoor surfaces like hills and beaches is a great way for these muscles to grow.

Playing outside also helps develop fine motor skills. These are nuanced movements related to hand dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Activities, like throwing a ball and riding a bike help, develop these actions. Fine motor skills developed outside actually help with indoor-based tasks like holding a pencil correctly.

3. Reduced Screen Time

Kids spend an average of 75 hours a week staring at an electronic screen. While electronic media can have some educational benefits, it’s also a passive activity. Too much screen time promotes obesity, short attention spans, and other negative traits.

But outside play is screen-free. Kids can run around and explore the real world. More than simply providing time away from screens, outdoor play helps kids learn active ways to play.

Too much screen time can have a negative impact on your health. It can lead to difficulty in processing emotions, increased likelihood of eye strain and decreased cognitive function. These problems are serious enough in adults, but they pose special problems in young, developing brains. Time spent outdoors is time spent away from screens.

4. Promotes Interest in Astronomy

You don’t need fancy equipment to enjoy the stars. Kids can marvel at the night sky even without a telescope or binoculars.

Stargazing introduces kids to concepts like outer space, planets and more. Plus, pondering the stars is often a great introduction to deeper concepts like religious ideas and the meaning of life.

If you know a kid who is interested in stargazing, you can further develop that interest by buying a telescope. Driving away from the city lights to look at the stars can be a great bonding experience. Plus, you can also visit the local planetarium to learn even more.

Astronomy is also a great way to introduce kids to constellations. Many kids are fascinated by the ancient myths found in the night sky. Plus, picturing the constellations helps boost creativity.

5. Improved Eyesight

Spending time outside helps prevent vision problems. A study published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology revealed an interesting connection between playing outside and improved eyesight. Regular outdoor play reduces the risk of developing nearsightedness (myopia).

For every hour spent outside in a week, a child’s chance of developing myopia is reduced by two percent. To be clear, research doesn’t suggest outdoor play can reduce existing myopia. However, it can help prevent myopia from developing.

Researchers don’t completely understand why spending time in the fresh air helps prevent myopia. However, they believe its because your eyes have to focus on multiple distances quickly. Your field of vision will be far more limited inside.

6. Helps Develop Social Skills

Unstructured play promotes a variety of social skills. Kids learn how to communicate with peers while playing games and using the playground equipment. For instance, kids have to wait in line for their turn on the slide, which helps teach patience.

A report from the University of Missouri-Kansas’ School of Education details additional brain-boosting benefits. Kids who play together outdoors improve their language and communication skills.

Any group outdoor play can help develop these social skills. Sports and organized activities teach cooperation and teamwork. Even unorganized play teaches kids how to get along, develop games together and communicate.

Kids are never too young to start learning communication skills. Even before they’re able to talk, kids will happily interact and learn from each other. Research suggests kids learn to talk quicker when around peers with similar (or slightly better) language skills.

7. Improves Levels of Vitamin D

Vitamin D provides valuable benefits to kids and adults. It helps bones stay strong while also helping prevent diabetes and heart disease. Maintaining proper levels of Vitamin D is especially important in growing children.

You can’t get enough Vitamin D from food alone. Fortunately, sunlight is a free and easy source of Vitamin D. Unfortunately, sunscreen actually blocks skin from absorbing Vitamin D. However, kids can get Vitamin D by playing outside without sunscreen for just a few minutes.

Not much exposure is required. Just 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine each day is enough to help kids maintain proper Vitamin D levels. The best time for sun exposure is between 10 am and 3 pm in the summer. Note that you can’t get Vitamin D from the sun in the winter if you live north of Atlanta. The sun never gets high enough for its ultraviolet rays to penetrate the atmosphere.

Short periods of exposure to sunlight when not wearing sunscreen usually isn’t harmful. But if your child is easily sunburned, Vitamin D supplements might be a better option.

8. Promotes Interest in Nature

Kids who spent time outdoors often develop a lifelong interest in the natural world. They often discover a fondness for plants, animals, climate and similar topics.

You don’t have to be a nature expert yourself to enjoy it with your kids. Enjoy their curiosity. See an unknown plant or animal? Help your kids learn more. Surprisingly, this is actually a great use for a smartphone (as long as it’s used sparingly).

Returning to the same spot throughout the year is a great way for kids to learn about seasons. They can watch how the animal and plant populations change throughout the year with the weather.

Try not to let the weather put a damper on the fun. Many kids will happily brave the rain and snow to explore the outdoors. Just make sure kids are properly dressed to stay warm and comfortable.

Plus, learning about nature is a great way to stay safe. Kids can learn basic survival skills such as how to avoid dangerous wildlife and what to do if they ever become lost in an unfamiliar environment.

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9. Encourages Involvement in the Community

Kids who feel attached to a favorite outdoor location often develop an interest in their larger community. Encourage your child to help care for their favorite creek, field or other spots. They can help keep the area clean.

Cleaning up a local park or field can be a fun activity for the whole family. Kids learn about teamwork and charity.

Your child might be interested in joining the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or other organization with a focus on outdoor activities. Beyond learning more about the natural world, Scouting and similar groups help kids develop kindness, trustworthiness and other good values.

10. Improved Attention Span

Spending time outdoors helps kids develop patience and long attention spans. When a child can focus for long periods, they have an easier time reading and learning. Plus, a high attention span helps kids learn to be self-directed.

Studies show regular play in outdoor areas can also reduce symptoms of ADHD. Regularly spending time in natural environments helps kids control fidgeting while increasing mental clarity. Some effective environments include parks and beaches. Play doesn’t have to be particularly active. Even sitting quietly in nature helps calm ADHD symptoms over time.

Over 6.4 million kids between the ages of six and 17 have symptoms of ADHD. About two-thirds of those affected take prescription medications such as Ritalin and Adderall to help treat their condition. While medications certainly play an important role, most parents prefer limiting them as much as possible. Regular outdoor activity can be an effective and natural way to lessen ADHD symptoms.

11. Stress Reduction

Kids of every age experiences stress, which can cause a variety of health problems. Fortunately, outside play is an easy and effective stress buster.

Research shows children who play in green areas have lower levels of stress than kids who primarily play inside. The natural world offers an escape from daily stresses found at home and in school.

Plus, the outdoors often offers peace and quiet. The comforting solace of nature can be a welcome contrast to a busy, noisy home or school. Walking or playing alone outside can be a chance to unwind and practice mindful awareness.

Spending time outdoors is a type of meditation, which has numerous benefits. Regular meditative practices help kids improve their self-control, ability to pay attention and overall cognitive function.

12. Develop “Soft Fascination”

Living in a large urban area can actually change how your brain functions. Called “Directed Attention,” it’s a process where your brain automatically filters out distractions. The larger and busier the environment, the more information your brain needs to ignore.

Unfortunately, even though this is an unconscious process, it does tire your mind. If your brain is continually overworked, you’ll feel tired, aggressive and impatient.

Spending time outside is a great way to give your brain a restful break. Quiet, natural spaces allow your brain to practice “soft fascination.” It’s a relaxed type of attention which doesn’t require filtering. Regular exposure to soft fascination increases feelings of relaxation and contentment.

13. Decreases Lifetime Obesity

Obesity is an epidemic in this country and children aren’t immune. Studies classify one in three children as obese. Unfortunately, obesity leads to high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical maladies.

Plus, obesity often leads to feelings of low self-esteem, especially in children. Obese kids often feel socially ostracized from their peers. They might also have a difficult time playing physical games as well as the other kids.

Kids who play outside have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight both now and in the future. If you maintain a healthy weight during childhood, you’re more likely to avoid obesity as an adult.

Of course, exercise is only one aspect of staying appropriately slim. You’ll need to teach your child how to avoid fatty foods and otherwise eat properly. Fortunately, outdoor play helps with that, too.

14. Promotes Interest in Gardening and Food

Consider adding a garden to your backyard, or joining a garden share in your community. Planting and harvesting fruits and veggies is fun and fascinating for kids. Many kids are surprised to learn that food doesn’t come from the grocery store – it grows out of the ground!

Plus, gardening can be a great way to overcome picky eating habits. Many little ones are more likely to try a food they’ve grown themselves. Gardening also helps kids learn how to make healthy food choices.

Another benefit of growing your food is there’s often plenty to share. The whole family can get together to enjoy a homecooked meal together. Eating together as a family helps promote closeness and togetherness.

15. Develops Lifelong Physical Fitness

Good habits developed in childhood have an excellent chance of continuing into adulthood. Kids who play outside learn to associate physical activity with fun. They’ll be far more likely to stay physically active over time.

Regular exercise helps improve energy levels, decrease stress and increase mental focus. Kids learn to associate physical activity with feeling good. Both structured play, like sports, and unstructured play, like running around, promote fitness.

Learning to play structured team events as a child helps promote teamwork and self-confidence. Kids learn the value of teamwork. Plus, sports help teach children the importance of trying their best and maintain a positive attitude after a loss.

16. Encourage Exploration

Outdoor play helps kids learn how to navigate unfamiliar territory. They can learn basic cardinal directions and navigation techniques as they explore nearby parks, forests and other new locations.

Of course, safety is always the main priority. Kids should never venture too far into unfamiliar areas. Also, make sure junior explorers always stick together in groups.

However, as long as know how to stay safe, outdoor exploration has plenty of benefits. Kids learn to feel confident in unfamiliar situations. They also help develop skills related to orientation.

Kids can hop on their bikes and skateboards to explore their neighborhood. Riding around familiar streets helps kids develop independence.

17. Helps Foster Creativity

Unstructured outdoor play is a chance for bodies and minds to run wild. When kids play outside, they have to rely on their imaginations.

Play without a clear purpose has a few benefits. It helps develop creativity. After all, a child needs an active imagination to create fun in an empty field. Kids can run around pretending to be superheroes, sports stars and more.

Also, unstructured play can be boring at times – and that’s a good thing. Boredom can be a great way to motivate kids into action. Instead of passively searching for something to watch online, kids learn how to create their own entertainment actively.

Plus, learning to play creativity with others is another important benefit. Creating a shared fantasy world, with consistent rules, helps kids learn how to develop ideas as part of a group.

18. Improved Sleep

Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect both physically and mentally. Kids in elementary school need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a night. Even just one night of poor sleep can impact a child ‘s mood and ability to concentrate, which can hurt their performance in school and cause other problems. A chronic lack of sleep can result in obesity, high blood pressure, and other ailments.

Outdoor exercise helps kids fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. Unstructured play at moderate to high intensity helps kids burn off excess energy. Plus, fun play releases endorphins, which helps the body produce melatonin during bedtime, a chemical which helps people feel sleepy.

Outdoor exercise has a rather unusual and unique sleep benefit, too. Studies show children sleep longer at night when they’ve been exposed to natural light earlier that afternoon. In fact, hundreds of years ago many mothers used to place their children outside for short periods each afternoon.

19. Improves Bond with Pets

Kids aren’t the only fans of playing outside. Dogs love outdoor play, too. Encourage kids and pets to play together. It can be a great bonding experience.

The best location for pet play is a fenced backyard. Younger kids are typically unable to control a dog on a leash. But a fenced yard allows the dog to run around with more freedom while still staying safe.

Be sure to teach your child how to play safely with a dog. Kids should never roll around on the ground in front of a dog. Dogs see rolling as a signal for rough playing, and they’re likely to nip or even bite the child.

Additionally, dogs tire easily but will try to hide signs of fatigue. Make sure kids don’t play with the dog too roughly or for too long a time.

20. Improves Immune System Function

Kids typically have no problem getting messy when playing outside. The good news is there’s no reason to fear mud, dirt, and grime.

Kids actually benefit from exposure to dirt and germs. It helps their immune systems develop correctly. Research suggests kids who grow up in an environment which is too germ-free are more likely to develop respiratory and other health issues later in life.

Exposing kids to common germs found outside helps protect against allergies and asthma. Plus, immune systems also get a boost when kids get plenty of sleep and exercise. Regular outdoor play actually has three distinct benefits for immune systems.

Final Thoughts

Outdoor play has fallen a bit out of fashion lately, but should always be encouraged. Kids who spend time having fun outdoors are healthier, happier and have overall better development than kids who spend most of their time inside.

Technology is fine in moderation, but old-fashioned outdoor activity is a timeless classic. Help your kids stay healthy and active for life. Prioritize at least one hour of outdoor play each day for your kids. You’ll be setting them up for a lifetime of success.

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