Guest post by Harper Reid
In an age of screens, instant entertainment, and unlimited internet plans, getting kids to choose outdoor play over indoor activities can be difficult. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to let our kids watch their favourite Youtuber for hours on end rather than tell them for the tenth time today that they need to get some exercise. Today’s children spend much less time outdoors than their parents and grandparents did, a fact that ought to worry parents. We should be encouraging children to spend at least a little time outdoors each day – but what are the benefits of outdoor play for children?
Outdoor play helps children to develop coordination and motor skills
Motor skills are developed in childhood, and outdoor play can help to refine these skills. It’s not the only way children will learn valuable coordination and motor skills, but playing a sport – or even just playing freely, learning what works for their bodies and what doesn’t – will help their development greatly. Proper coordination is a valuable skill that will help them in all sorts of pursuits, and they’ll be able to push their limits and try new things later in childhood if they have a head start. To this end, let kids engage in free play for at least some of their time outdoors.
Playing outdoors in teams will help children to develop valuable teamwork skills
Sure, children can play games involving teamwork indoors, but playing outdoors can encourage a healthy interest in sports, and give children the space they need to fully express themselves. Games you might like to encourage your children to play outside include Hide and Seek; Capture the Flag, in which kids attempt to steal a flag or other object from the opposite team’s ‘territory’; and Freeze Tag, in which children must ‘freeze’ on the spot they are tagged and can be ‘unfrozen’ by other players.
Outdoor activities can encourage repetitive play
Repetitive play often gets a bad rap, but meaningful repetitive play can help children to develop normally and allow them to discover and cultivate their interests. Repetitive play, a broad term that encompasses all sorts of repetitive behaviour, helps children to learn through the creation of schemas, which allow them to explore their place in the world. For example, a child might develop a rotational schema, and have the urge to spin or move around in a circle. Encourage children to adapt to these schemas and explore their interests by allowing them to spend time playing freely outdoors and asking questions about what they’re doing.
Outdoor play can be beneficial to their immune system
Vitamin D, which forms in the body thanks to sun exposure, is an important part of a healthy body, and recent research suggests that there may be a link between Vitamin D and better immunity. Additionally, the hygiene hypothesis suggests that children who don’t gain sufficient exposure to microbes in their early lives are more likely to be susceptible to allergies later in life, as their immune systems haven’t encountered a healthy range of microbes. While, as a parent, you might be less than enthusiastic about your child’s body and clothing being exposed to dirt, their immune system may thank you later!
Learning to love the outdoors at an early age will set children up for life
Spending time in nature is beneficial to all of us, and there are plenty of activities that children can discover in childhood and keep practising well into adulthood. Children who are interested in nature will likely grow into adults who enjoy spending their free time outdoors, so it’s vital to encourage youngsters to develop an interest in the outdoors early in their lives. Teach your children about nature and wildlife at an early age, explore the outdoors with them, and impress upon them that spending time outdoors is healthy for both their bodies and their minds.
It’s clear that outdoor activity is an important part of healthy childhood development, but how much time do kids need to play outside? Well, according to experts, children should exercise for at least an hour; have them reach this goal outside if you can. Encourage your children by accompanying them to outdoor areas, and let them suggest games and activities they would like to take part in.
Harper Reid is a freelance writer from Auckland, New Zealand who has a passion for teaching and arts. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her checking out new preschool teaching methods and strategies. You can find more of her work on her Tumblr.