Playing outside is a classic childhood activity, but did you know that it can also protect your child’s health? It’s true, and the advantages span beyond what one might expect. The benefits of outdoor play for kids are both mental and physical, making it critical for children. Still, some kids have trouble getting the outdoor time they need. So, what should parents know?
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the top benefits of outdoor play for kids and outdoor activity ideas families can use to encourage kids to spend time in nature.
Benefits Of Outdoor Play And Activities For Kids
Exposure to green space promotes a healthy brain and body, and extensive research has shown that outdoor activities are beneficial for all age groups. Here are some of the top potential benefits of outdoor play and activities for children.
Children need at least one hour of physical activity per day, according to the CDC. Going outside often provides an opportunity to move around, and some researchers have suggested that some of the benefits of green spaces found in research could be due to the increase in physical activity. This makes sense, as outdoor play is correlated with lower levels of sedentary behavior. Physical activity is protective of overall mental and physical health and can lower the risk of concerns such as heart disease, so it is valuable to set kids up for success early on by helping them find movement-based hobbies they like.
Exposure to natural light during the day helps people sleep better at night. This is because natural light signifies to the body that it is daytime, whereas dim or dark environments tell the body it is time to go to sleep. If kids, or people of any age, are without daylight during daytime hours (or if they experience other disruptions, such as exposure to blue light before bed), sleeping patterns can be thrown off.
The benefits of getting enough sleep and creating a sleep hygiene routine, which can include exposure to natural light during the day, span beyond feeling well-rested. Getting enough sleep protects the immune system, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and other physical health conditions, is connected to better mental and behavioral health outcomes, and lowers the risk of injury.
Mood, mental health, and behavior
Extensive research has looked at the connection between spending time outdoors and mental health. Studies have found a correlation between outdoor time and a reduction in stress hormones. Stress can profoundly affect our mood and mental health regardless of age, and it is important to learn stress management tools like heading outside for fresh air early on. It is also suggested that spending time outdoors is associated with a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety. When a child’s mental health is in a good place and they are not experiencing consistent or severe stress, behavioral improvements typically occur, so this is yet another advantage.
Lower levels of screen time
Outdoor play is an excellent replacement for excessive screen time. Not all screen time is bad; educational screen time, for example, can be positive for kids. That said, it’s essential to limit screen time and strike a healthy balance. Planning other activities can help kids avoid looking at screens too much, and outdoor activities can help you not only lower the likelihood of risks connected to excessive screen time but provide counteractive positive effects. For example, while outdoor time has the aforementioned potential to reduce depressive symptoms, screens can increase depressive symptoms.
Playing outside provides a natural opportunity to build multiple skills. These aren’t limited to athletic skills like running or climbing, although those are relevant, too. Outdoor play, specifically with other children, provides an opportunity for socialization, which can encourage communication and other social skills. Common outdoor games children play can also promote problem-solving and other skills.
We know that physical activity can promote academic performance. If outdoor hobbies are active, kids receive the cognitive benefits of physical activity. However, even independent of physical activity, various studies show that there’s a positive connection between better academic performance and outdoor time. For example, some studies show that outdoor learning is associated with better academic performance. Taking a break to go outside can make settling down to study, do homework, or finish classwork easier for multiple reasons, including better focus and concentration.
If your family is able to enjoy the outdoors together, it can be a great way to add quality time to your and your children’s lives. Family bonding is vital for children and can support the connection you have with your child in multiple ways, such as providing an opportunity to talk with one another more often. Healthy attachment to an adult can support a child’s mental health and promote resilience. An added bonus of using nature activities for family time is that adults and other family members will receive the benefits of time outdoors, too.
Outdoor Activity Ideas For Kids
Now that you know some of the top benefits of outdoor activities for kids, how do you ensure that your own children receive the advantages? Different children may gravitate toward specific activities, and some may be more ideal than others, depending on where you live. You can choose activities based on your child’s needs, accessibility, and other factors.
While it’s by no means an extensive list, here are some outdoor activity ideas for kids:
- Go to the local playground.
- Play hopscotch or make chalk art.
- Play outdoor sports (e.g., tennis, soccer, or track).
- Set up an outdoor playdate with other kids.
- Visit and learn about an outdoor landmark.
- Use scooters, skateboards, or roller skates.
- Ride bikes.
- Take a family nature walk or hike.
- Play jump rope or frisbee.
- Fly kites.
Unstructured or self-directed outdoor play is even better according to some research. Even so, if a child needs encouragement to go outside, structuring one of the activities above can be helpful. The most important thing is that your child has fun and gets the fresh air they need!
Research reveals a wide range of benefits of spending time outdoors for people of all ages, including children. While some activities may be more accessible in different areas, what matters is that your child gets exposure to green spaces when possible. Although going outside is not a treatment for any physical or mental health condition, it is a supportive and healthy activity that encourages holistic well-being.
If your child needs additional help with mental health or behavior and you would like to work with us, fill out the contact form on our website or call (402) 926-4373 to schedule your free consultation and tour.