Outdoor play has always been a favoured pastime for children and parents alike. There's no feeling quite like watching your child play with the sun on their face and the wind in their hair. From climbing frames and swings to a good old-fashioned skip through the meadows, there’s an outdoor play activity for every little nipper.
With modern technology finding new ways to captivate our little ones, you may find yourself having to find new ways to encourage kids to play outdoors, too. Take it from us, there are infinite reasons for you and your child to take part in play outside.
In this blog, we’ll look at outdoor play's benefits on children’s health, learning and development.
Why should kids play outdoors?
As an adult, it’s easy to recall the many days and nights spent playing outdoors in the fresh air. And, whilst it has decreased in popularity over generations due to the rise in technology, spending time with loved ones outdoors has never been more important. Even if you're limited on space, there are plenty of small garden play area ideas to give you some inspiration.
We know that these days, kids have a slight preference for sitting in the house on their gaming console or watching colourful cartoons on the television, and who can blame them? Technology is designed to catch and keep our little ones' attention.
Rife with physical and mental benefits, outdoor time is crucial to a child's development. So stick with us as we go through some of the benefits of outdoor play on children's health, learning and development that'll leave you itching to get outside and play yourself!
The connection between outdoor play and physical development
To kick things off, let’s look at the physical benefits of playing outdoors:
- Staying active: Being out in the wide open spaces encourages physical activity, such as running, jumping, climbing, biking, and even jumping in a swimming pool. These activities are essential to a child's health, improving their cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and overall fitness levels.
- Vitamin D production: Exposure to natural sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, which is crucial for a person's bone health and immune system function. Doctors recommend getting around 10-30 minutes of sunlight per day to reap the benefits of the sun, according to Healthline.
- Healthy sleeping patterns: Regular outdoor play is great for maintaining the body's natural circadian rhythms, making it easier to establish healthy sleep patterns. We all know this is important for a child's routine and your own as a parent. Exposure to natural light during the day can also improve the overall quality of sleep at night.
- Enhanced motor skills: Classic outdoor activities like climbing, swinging, and playing with garden toys improve motor skills in children. These skills are crucial for physical development and can impact a child's coordination and general ability to perform everyday tasks.
- Stronger immune system: Spending time outdoors exposes individuals to all of our world's natural elements, including various microorganisms and allergens. Being around germs helps strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases.
- Better vision: Outdoor play may contribute to better eye health. Spending time outdoors*, in natural settings and away from artificial light has been shown to reduce the risk of nearsightedness in children.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Outdoor play is an enjoyable way to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight. It can help prevent issues like obesity and the health issues that come with it, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Outdoor play can be interpreted in whatever way you like! Whether going for a jaunt in the local woods, a game of football, or simply enjoying being together in the garden - make sure to find an activity the entire family can get involved in.
Benefits of outdoor play on mental and cognitive development in children
But wait up, it's not all about the physical benefits when getting outside. Outdoor play has numerous positive effects on a child's mental health and cognitive development, too, particularly for little ones. Here are some of the key benefits that cannot be ignored:
- Enhanced cognitive skills: Depending on the type of play your child is taking part in, outdoor play can involve problem-solving and decision-making. Some examples include building dens, navigating different obstacles, or creating imaginative games, all of which improve cognitive development and critical thinking.
- Increased creativity: Outdoor play encourages imaginative and creative thinking. In the freedom of open space, children invent stories, build structures, and take in their surroundings. This a great way to foster your child's creativity, exploration and innovation. Toys such as playhouses give children extra opportunities to get creative - why not check out some of our playhouse interior ideas as inspiration?
- Sensory exploration: This is especially relevant to the early stages of child development. Outdoor environments are incredibly engaging settings for all five senses. Children can touch, smell, see, hear, and taste natural elements, stimulating sensory development and awareness.
Benefits of outdoor play for social and emotional well-being of children
We all know there's nothing quite like getting out in the fresh air on a Saturday morning. It makes everyone feel good! Alongside this general feeling of wellness, outdoor play provides numerous benefits for social and emotional well-being.
The following are some beneficial reasons you should pop your wellies on and get outside (even if it is a bit soggy):
- Self-confidence: The outdoors can create scenarios for your child to set goals and build skills. Achieving goals in outdoor play, such as climbing a tree, completing an obstacle course or winning a game of football can boost a child's self-esteem.
- Social skills: Outdoor play, especially in public parks, typically involves interaction with peers, helping children develop social skills at an early age. They will be spending time with other children and learn how to cooperate, share and resolve conflicts, all of which are integral for early social and emotional development.
- Emotional regulation: Playing outdoors provides children with opportunities to experience a range of emotions, from excitement and joy to frustration and disappointment. Whether in sporting scenarios or playing in nature, these experiences help them learn to regulate their emotions.
- Emotional expression: Outdoor play provides a safe space for children to express their emotions freely. They can run, shout, and let it all out. This can be therapeutic and help them manage their emotions.
- Independence: Outdoor play allows children to explore their surroundings and make decisions independently. This fosters a sense of self-reliance, which helps to promote their emotional growth.
- Empathy and compassion: Outdoor play with other children can often involve cooperation and teamwork. Through outdoor play, children learn to understand the feelings and perspectives of their friends, promoting empathy and compassion.
- Stress reduction: Outdoor play in green spaces or natural settings is often relaxing for children and adults, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. With all their senses at play, children unwind and escape any stresses in the outdoors.
Top tips for making outdoor play safe and fun for your kids
We all want our kids to have fun, whether chasing one another in a field, playing on a climbing frame or practising their best hide-and-seek skills. And you know what they say: better safe than sorry! Below are some valuable tips to make playtime safe:
- Supervision: Especially for younger children, an adult needs to be present during outdoor play. It's a good chance for a parent to grab a seat, a cuppa, and relax outdoors, whilst keeping a watchful eye on the little ones to ensure their safety.
- Safe play areas: Designate a safe play area with clear boundaries, such as a fenced backyard or a playground with protective, soft surfaces like rubber mulch or sand.
- Regular maintenance: One of the main ways to keep your child safe during play is to inspect outdoor play equipment regularly for any wear and tear, loose bolts, or other common potential hazards.
- Teach proper hygiene: Though it's good for your little ones to be exposed to the elements, you must teach them the importance of washing hands after playing outdoors, especially if they've been making mud pies or forming friendships with the local wildlife.
- Teach rules: Although we know that rules can provoke grumbling in some children, clear rules for outdoor play such as no pushing, or rough play can ensure everyone stays safe and happy.
- First aid and supplies: A well-stocked first aid kit works wonders for common outdoor injuries like cuts and grazes. If you're playing away from home, it also pays to bring supplies like water, snacks, and a phone for emergencies.
- Encourage a buddy system: Encourage the buddy system, where children play in pairs or groups (& stay safe by sticking together!). This can help in accidents or emergencies, ensuring no children are left alone in distress.
- Educate about nature: Teach children to be aware of wildlife around them, such as bees, snakes, and insects, and how to react if they encounter them. Wildlife in the UK is famously low-risk, but it still pays to know your mice from your rats.
- Set clear boundaries: Establish geographical boundaries for where children can and cannot go while playing outside, especially if you live near busy streets or areas such as desolate forests or train lines.
By following these tips and maintaining a safe, supervised outdoor play environment, you can make sure that your little ones have a wonderful time while enjoying the benefits of the great outdoors.
Make your child’s outdoor play as fun as it can be
If you’re looking to make your little one’s outdoor play as fun as it can possibly be, take a look at our range here at Outdoor Toys! We have a fine selection of exhilarating apparatus available, like climbing frames monkey bars, swings and even swimming pools for those (sometimes) scorching British summer days.
Feel like having a jump around? Take a look at our trampolines.
With your child’s safety and enjoyment in mind, we only provide goods made from high-quality materials and reputable manufacturers, you’re in safe hands with our range of carefully picked playthings. Of course, adult supervision is always recommended with any outdoor toys. For more information, read our dedicated guide on how to keep kids safe on climbing frames.
FAQs about outdoor play for kids
How does outdoor play support language development?
Outdoor play supports language development in children in a couple of different ways.
Firstly, language development is supported due to the increased likelihood of interacting with peers. Outdoor play often involves chatting and playing with other children, whether that's in a game setting or through imaginative play. This practice speeds up your development as a child.
The second main way outdoor play supports language development is through simply experiencing the world! When a child explores the outdoors, they learn about new things, discover new words and find fresh ways to describe their experiences.
What are the links between outdoor play and social development?
Thanks to increased interaction, role-playing and collaboration with other children, outdoor play aids social development. A few of the links include:
- Taking turns and sharing: This will teach patience and empathy as children learn to share.
- Cooperating: Kids will learn to communicate whilst working towards a common goal.
- Negotiating: As we know, negotiating is all about how you talk to people. During negotiations, children will learn tact and compromise.
- Talking to one another: Outdoor play is a great way to meet people and practise chatting organically.
* Deng L, Pang Y. Effect of Outdoor Activities in Myopia Control: Meta-analysis of Clinical Studies. Optom Vis Sci. 2019 Apr;96(4):276-282.