4 Reasons Outdoor Play is Vital for Your Child


The joy of play! We grow up playing as a default. Everything is new, curious, and filled with possibilities. We play, not even realizing the depth of learning that is occurring. Yet so much is happening!

  • When children play, they’re building skills that range from fine motor to cognitive to problem solving.
  • Play promotes creativity and problem solving. Your child has an idea to construct a pirate ship. Great! How will they build it?
  • From cutting paper to crossing the monkey bars, play builds fine and gross motor coordination. 
  • Through simple doll play, children enhance their imagination and communication skills as they create dialogue and activities for their dolls.
  • Play provides opportunities for understanding different emotions and practicing empathy. Children share Matchbox cars and recognize other points of view as they navigate differing ideas for how to achieve the same outcome as each other.
  • When they’re not adult-directed, children must direct themselves, naturally allowing kids to test and develop their leadership capability. 

Now add outdoor play to the equation, and we increase the benefits even more.

4 Reasons Outdoor Play is Vital for Your Child

The great outdoors offers fresh air, sunshine, rain or even snow. If playing outdoors isn’t your child’s first choice, start with 20 minutes and watch as that amount of time naturally begins to extend. Whether your child is in flip-flops or rain boots, make time to get outside and play every day!

1. The great outdoors helps us sleep. It’s no secret that sunshine provides much-needed Vitamin D, but why does it matter? Vitamin D is an important element for building and maintaining a strong immune system. It also promotes the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that supports sleep. While one can take Vitamin D or melatonin as a supplement, why bother when as little as 15-20 minutes outside in the sunshine will aid your body in producing them naturally? Fun fact: playing outdoors even on a cloudy day will keep your child’s circadian rhythm in balance. When our eyes absorb the change in light (from indoors to outdoors), our body recognizes the shift and still creates melatonin.

2. Outdoor play inspires more active play. “Don’t throw that ball in the house!” Sound familiar? The open space that comes with being outside automatically gives children the freedom to be more expansive with their bodies. There’s more room to run, jump rope, swing or create art with sidewalk chalk. This type of play builds gross motor skills and strength.

3. Outdoor play encourages risk taking. It can be nerve-wracking to sit back and watch your kids spread their wings. Activities like bide riding, scooter scooting, and skateboarding almost always come with their fair share of cuts and bruises. Climbing trees or roller skating can equate to a broken bone. No parent chooses to put their child in harm’s way, but encouraging these kinds of risks builds confidence and resilience. 

4. Take a break from screen time. Playing outside fosters an appreciation of nature. Even more, it enables an oft-needed break from electronics. There are a variety of reasons this is a good thing. Here’s one you might not know:  Studies have shown that children who play outdoors more often than their peers are less likely to develop nearsightedness. Why this is the case is still largely unknown, though one theory being tested is whether taking a break from work that is “close” (i.e. reading or screen time) decreases stress on the eyes. Either way you look at it, there seems good reason to head outside for while!

Activities to Motivate Heading Outside

Some kids love being outside for hours on end. For others, it’s a struggle to get them out. If the latter is true, talk with your child about why outdoor play time is important to you. Help them understand why you’re “forcing” them to do something they’d rather not do. Like adults, children are much more likely to try something if they understand how it can help them.

Two tips for helping ease the process. Set up a play date with other families who kids enjoy playing outside. Most of us are more open to trying something if our friends are doing it, so use that positive influence to your advantage. Second, make going outside fun. Give your child a place to plant small plants or vegetables. Dig for bugs and start an insect collection. Create leaf rubbings or use various objects from outside as paint brushes – see what types of texture you get from using different painting tools. Go on a scavenger hunt, or try out the age-old games of tag and hide-and-seek.

The benefits of outdoor play are many, so stand up, stretch, and head on out! 

By Mary Ostrowski