6 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids: Why Your Child Needs More Time in Nature

5 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids: Why Your Child Needs More Time in Nature

Outdoor play is crucial for the overall well-being of children, both physically and emotionally. Studies show that unstructured, outdoor time is essential for the overall health and development of children across physical, cognitive, social-emotional, language, and literacy domains. It is important to invest in giving our children experiences in nature.

Why should my child play outside?

American Academy of Pediatrics states that, on average, American child spend around seven hours per day on electronic devices, playing video games and watching cartoons. AAP also discourages using media use by children younger than 18 months. Neuroscience research tells us that a child’s brain is 75% wired for behaviors by the age of 3 and 90% wired by the age of five. So what they do, see, hear, and experience is critical to who they become as adults.

Excessive screen time can lead to a host of negative effects, such as decreased physical activity, poor sleep patterns, and decreased social interaction.

What to do instead. Spend quality time instead of screen time. Take them to outdoor spaces. Let them play outside. Children should spend more time exploring and playing outdoors. From physical activity to improved problem-solving skills, outdoor play has numerous benefits for children’s well-being.

outdoor benefits for kids

Why is playing outside crucial for kids?

As parents, we want our children to grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. One way to ensure this is to encourage them to spend more time outside. One simple way to do this is by spending time playing with them outside and organizing outdoor activities. Whether it’s in your backyard or at a local, public park, getting in the natural environment and being active can be beneficial for both you and your kids.

Not only does playing outside provide a change of scenery, but it also allows for physical activity and the opportunity to bond with your children. Studies have shown that regular physical activity can have positive effects on both physical and mental health, as well as cognitive development. Additionally, spending time outdoors has been linked to improved mood and reduced stress levels.

Playing with your kids also allows for important emotional connections to be made. Children thrive on positive attention and affection from their parents, and actively participating in their play can strengthen the bond between parent and child. This can be especially important during the toddler years when children are developing a sense of self and learning about the world around them.

Of course, not all parents have the option to take their children outside and play. If this is the case for you, there are still ways to be active and spend time with your kids. Try putting on a kids’ dance video and dancing together, or take a family walks together. If your kids are old enough to ride a bike, go on a bike ride together.

In today’s busy world, it can be easy to get caught up in the demands of parenting and neglect the importance of spending quality time with your children. But by making an effort to play with your kids and be active together, you’ll not only be promoting their physical and emotional development but also strengthening your own physical and emotional well-being.

How to introduce directed and free play outdoors?

Playing is crucial for a child’s growth and development as it enables them to learn through exploration and acquire essential skills for life, such as social interaction, problem-solving, memory, and physical coordination. Overall, play plays a vital role in promoting a child’s well-being.

So what’s the difference then between direct and free play?

Free play allows children to use their imagination and make their own decisions about what they want to play without anyone telling them how to play or what to do with their toys. This means they can create their own stories and scenarios in any way they choose.

To introduce directed and free play outdoors, it is important first to establish clear expectations and guidelines for behavior and safety. This can be done by setting up designated areas for different types of play, such as a designated area for sports and a separate area for creative play.

You can also provide a variety of age-appropriate activities and materials for both directed and free play. For directed play, this could include structured games and activities, such as a scavenger hunt or obstacle course.

For free play, provide open-ended materials such as blocks, sand, and water and natural materials such as sticks and rocks. It is also important to provide adult supervision and guidance to ensure that children are safe and staying within established boundaries. By providing a balance of both directed and free play opportunities, children can explore their interests and develop important skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and social interaction.

Remember, each child’s experience of free play may vary. As your child is one-of-a-kind, free play allows them to discover the various methods they can use to understand their surroundings. Engaging in free play is crucial for the growth of the neural pathways associated with imagination, originality, and analytical thinking. Through free play, children enhance and fortify the neural pathways that contribute to both cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. Additionally, free play aids in the development of a child’s ability to control their emotions by letting them experience the disappointment that comes with something not working out the way they wanted it to.  They will have to decide to cry or not and for how long.  They have to figure out if they need an adult to help them or if they want to figure out what to do next and how they want to problem-solve for a solution without an adult telling them what to do. 

children outdoor play

What are the Six benefits of outdoor play?

Outdoor play offers a wide range of benefits for children of all ages. Here are 5 reasons why it’s time to take your kids out into nature. Let’s understand each one of them.

  1. Improving Physical Health

Outdoor play is a great way for kids to get the exercise they need to stay healthy. Running, climbing, and playing games all help to develop strong muscles and bones. This helps to develop their gross motor skills, coordination, and balance. It also promotes physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

In addition, spending time outside can also improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of obesity, and boost overall fitness. 

  1. Enhances Brain Development

Climbing helps develop the vestibular or balance system in your child’s brain. Development of the vestibular system is important for coordination balance, motor fitness like speed and agility.  In addition, climbing helps integrate the balance areas of the brain with the pre-frontal cortex – the decision-making and problem-solving areas.


Swinging – develops a child’s coordination skills.  In addition swinging is an excellent way for a child to develop their sensory system and help them regulate their emtions.  Swinging develops spatial awareness and spinning of a swing stimulated multiple parts of a child’s brain at the same time.  The areas the are activated by spinning are important areas for rhythm, balance, muscle control, and special awareness.


Jumping is a great way to build body awareness, co-ordination, and balance.  The cerebellum is the part of the brain the controls balance.  It makes the postural chanes in response to the information it receives from the body.  Th cerebellum is responsible for maintaining balance. It will quickly respond to the constant changes in your child’s center of gravity that occurs with repeated jumping or bouncing.

  1. Enhancing Mental Well-being

Playing outside has been shown to improve mental well-being in children. Being in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and increase feelings of happiness and contentment. Exposure to natural light and fresh air can also help to regulate sleep patterns, leading to better overall health. Children who spend more time outside have been found to have better concentration, problem-solving skills, and creativity.

  1. Developing Social Skills

Outdoor play provides children with the opportunity to interact with others in a natural setting. They learn to share, take turns, and work together to solve problems. Playing with friends also helps children to develop communication and negotiation skills, which are essential for success in life. It helps with socialization as the play allows children to interact with their peers in a natural setting. Children who play outside are more likely to form lasting friendships and develop a sense of community.

children play
  1. Boosting Creativity and Imagination

Playing outside allows children to use their imagination and creativity in new and exciting ways. They can explore, discover and create without the constraints of technology or screens. Playing in nature also provides children with a sense of wonder and curiosity, encouraging them to explore and understand the world around them. Being in nature allows children to learn about the environment and the importance of preserving it. They can learn about different plants, animals, and weather patterns and develop an appreciation for the natural world. Outdoor play allows children to use their imagination and creativity. They can make up games, build forts, and explore new areas.

  1. Building Confidence and Self-Esteem

Outdoor play provides children with the opportunity to take risks and push their boundaries. They learn to overcome obstacles, both physical and mental, and gain a sense of accomplishment as a result. This helps to build confidence and self-esteem, which are essential for success in life.

How has COVID impacted outdoor time?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on children’s ability to spend time outdoors. With lockdowns and social distancing measures in place, many parks and playgrounds have been closed, making it difficult for kids to get outside and engage in physical activity. Additionally, schools and daycare centers have closed or shifted to remote learning, meaning that children are spending more time indoors and less time in outdoor environments.

This lack of outdoor time can have negative effects on children’s physical and mental health, as well as their overall well-being. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help to reduce stress, improve mood, and boost cognitive function, so it’s important for children to have access to outdoor spaces during this time.


In conclusion, outdoor play is essential for children’s development. It offers a range of benefits, from improving physical health to enhancing mental well-being. As parents, it’s vital that we encourage our children to spend more time outside, giving them the opportunity to explore, discover, and grow in a natural setting. So, next time your child is sitting in front of a screen, consider encouraging them to put down the device and head outside for some much-needed fresh air and sunshine.