What do great leaders such as Nelson Mandela, David Suzuki, Stephen Hawking, and Jane Goodall all have in common? They spent their childhoods playing outdoors!
All children benefit from outdoor play. Research and real-life examples show us that spending time in nature nurtures healthy brains, bodies, and hearts that change the world.
Read on to discover what outdoor play is, why children aren’t spending enough time outdoors, & how outdoor play benefits kids’ health.
What is Outdoor Play?
Simply put, outdoor play involves spending time with nature through playful activities such as planting, climbing, swinging, walking, and more! Unlike indoor play or organized activities such as sports, which are structured and limit the range of activities that children can engage in, outdoor play allows children to freely choose how to spend their time outdoors. Outdoor play can happen in any safe outdoor area: at a park, along a hiking trail, or right in your backyard!
Yet, despite the endless possibilities for outdoor play, many children aren’t spending enough time outdoors (psst - and neither are their parents !)
Why Aren't Kids Spending Time Outdoors?
For one thing, today’s kids are incredibly busy. Jam-packed school schedules and calendars that are brimming with after-school commitments leave little time for unstructured outdoor play.
Along wth this, some regions, especially urban regions, don't have enough green spaces for children to play in. Instead of fresh, green grass that children can roll around in and explore, the playgrounds in large cities may be paved over with concrete. For families that lack access to the transportation that they need to explore the green spaces that lie beyond the city, it can be hard to find time to spend outdoors.
Why Outdoor Play is So Important
Some adults incorrectly assume that the outdoors can only provide non-educational experiences. The truth? Outdoor play provides plenty of great learning opportunities, essential skills, and health benefits that can’t be found anywhere else!
Outdoor Play Boosts Kids’ Physical Health
Research finds that children who spend time outdoors are more physically active. This is because outdoor spaces give children room for engaging in active, health-boosting activities (think running and climbing!) that can’t happen indoors. Furthermore, when children engage in activities that enable them to practice walking on uneven ground and exercising their peripheral vision, they improve their observation and coordination skills.
From the American Academy of Pediatrics to the UK Chief Medical Officers, health organizations around the world agree that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day, and that they should also spend at least 3 days per week engaged in vigorous-intensity aerobic activities and 3 days per week engaged in bone and muscle-building activities.
What do these activities look like? According to the Government of Canada's guidelines:
· Moderate-intensity aerobic activities raise heart and breathing rates, but not to the point where it becomes too difficult to speak.
· Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities raise heart and breathing rates to the point where it becomes too difficult to speak.
· Muscle-strengthening activities include walking and other activities that strengthen muscles and bones.
Outdoor play helps kids to meet these recommendations, and then some!
Outdoor Play Improves Kids’ Mental Wellbeing
Spending time outdoors reduces kids’ stress and promotes mental wellbeing. A 2017 report examined over 300 research papers which looked at the impact that having access to greenspace has on children’s mental health. The results? Time spent in greenspace was related to improved attention, memory, and stress levels in kids! Other research suggests that spending even a few minutes outside each day can calm stress hormones and reduce blood pressure.
When children play outside, they usually play games that involve teamwork, resolving conflicts, and understanding others’ emotions. These activities help them to improve important social skills such as empathy. Along with this, many outdoor games are perfectly suited for parents to play along with their kids. These parent-child bonding opportunities can create moments of learning and love that stick with kids for a lifetime.
While playing outdoors, children can re-imagine the objects that they find in nature to fit their fantasies. A rock can become a canvas. A stick can become a wand. Unlike the toys that you’ll find at toy stores, natural objects promote something called open-ended play, which encourages kids to think of unconventional uses for an object. Nature boosts kids’ creative thinking skills!
Outdoor play also reinforces the lessons that kids learn at school by allowing them to see real-world examples of these concepts. For example, by dropping rocks and pinecones into a pond, children learn about buoyancy and other physical properties of objects.
Outdoor Play Nurtures a Lifelong Love for Nature
In one study, researchers asked over 2,000 adults about how much time they spent engaging in nature activities (such as hiking) when they were children. Unsurprisingly, adults who reported spending more time in nature as kids were more likely to become environmentally conscious adults.
Outdoor play is unparalleled when it comes to boosting kids’ health, sharpening their minds, and keeping them engaged. By ensuring that kids get as much time outdoors as possible, provided that it is safe to do so, we can ensure that kids reap all of the benefits of outdoor play.
What kinds of outdoor activities are popular with your kids? Let us know in the comments for a chance to be featured on our Facebook & Instagram!
Before you Go, Did you Know...?
· Nelson Mandela spent much of his childhood outdoors, playing with animals and racing down hills.
· A young Stephen Hawking loved watching stars in his backyard and maintained his love for nature by taking up rowing in college.
· Jane Goodall spent her childhood exploring the outdoors, where she developed her famous love of animals.
· Growing up, Vincent van Gogh explored the vast fields and dense forests of the Brabant countryside where he was born.
· David Suzuki’s childhood camping experiences stoked his fervent passion for nature.
· Lucy Maud Montgomery had a lifelong love of nature, which inspired her beloved Anne of Green Gables novel (which, by the way, is a great summer read for kids!)