Outdoor play can be great fun, it allows children to explore their environment at full throttle. When you’re outside you can engage your whole body, shout at the top of your voice, run as fast as you can, fall over, roll around and get filthy.
However, there is a reason why children seem to go a bit wild when they get outside, it’s because that kind of movement and interaction with their surroundings supports their development. It allows them to find their limits, build their strength and practice skills they will need as they grow.
But there is so much more to it than that, as well as exploring their physical capabilities outdoor play also gives a mental, physical and philosophical workout. Let’s look at five of the most important benefits of outdoor play.
“Children think better on their feet than on their seat.”Mark Benden
Health and well being
Outside children find it easier to be themselves. The feeling of unrestricted freedom brings a sense of joy and wellbeing that isn’t experienced in other situations.
“There is a natural simplicity to nature; it is far more tactile and tangible than the classroom.”Ben Fogle
People who get outside regularly have been found to have better mental health and are less likely to suffer from stress related conditions as a young person.
“We now have conclusive evidence that sport and physical activity are clearly linked to mental wellbeing.”Lisa O’Keefe, Sport England insight director
The NHS activity guidelines for children aged between 5 and 18 say that they should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day. It should include aerobic exercise, exercises to strengthen their bones and exercises to strengthen their muscles. Outdoor play gives the opportunity for all of this, allowing children to develop healthy minds and bodies.
In an outdoor environment, children are more likely to interact with things that don’t have a defined purpose. Sticks, mud and leaves don’t come with instruction manuals and really allow children to engage their imagination and interact with them in any way that they like.
Playing with loose parts outside gives children creative opportunities that support their development. They can recreate problems and situations in new ways and work through things in creative and imaginative ways. It’s great fun too!
The combination of loose parts and the outdoors gives untold combinations and possibilities. Stories can be told, created or re-enacted. New inventions and impossible devices can be created from mud and pebbles.
“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”Plato
Outside there is the opportunity to play in groups where children can develop sharing, cooperation and conflict resolution. Situations where they have opportunity work through situations themselves are hugely important to help them build relevant social skills for later.
Also, games and play that are self-started are a great way to move through different stages of social interaction. Children can play alone, play alongside each other, mirror others’ play and eventually play collaboratively.
While this can often be done inside too, the outdoor provides more space and play opportunities that add an extra dimension to the experience.
Playing outside allows children to negotiate unfamiliar situations independently. They can learn how to pick themselves up when they fall over and deal with difficulties themselves.
It also gives them the opportunity to be outside of direct adult supervision. This can help to develop a sense of self and support risk taking which is a crucial factor for development.
Explore their world, appreciate nature and care for the environment
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than they seek.”John Muir
The potential for exploration is much greater outside, the sense of adventure it gives is a wonderful stimulus for play. This can be anything from observing and discovering new things to interacting with and caring for the environment.
Outdoor play doesn’t have to be confined to the back garden or playground, it could be a nature walk or even a visit to the woods. Allowing children to embrace their love of collecting and discovering natural treasures opens lots of possibilities and adventures. It can also be a great stimulus for useful conversations about what is OK to pick up and what should just be looked at.
Getting outside is beneficial for so many reasons, not only is it crucial for children’s wellbeing and development but it also provides better sleep, gross motor development and the production of vitamin D. During winter getting outside could decrease your risk of colds and flu. Micro-organisms get swept around inside buildings by heating systems so that spending lots of time indoors increase the risk of illness.
The National Trust discovered that children today spend half the time outside that their parents did at the same age. Do you remember how you benefited from playing outside? Help your children have the same opportunity and get out there together.