The Canberra Times

The benefits of outdoor play for kids

The benefits of getting your kids out in nature for some playtime are many. Picture Shutterstock
The benefits of getting your kids out in nature for some playtime are many. Picture Shutterstock

Playtime is what every kid looks forward to, but did you know that outdoor play, especially, has wonderful benefits for your little one? Yes, they get their bodies moving and blood pumping, but there's so much more to it.

Encouraging children to engage in outdoor play benefits their overall health. Unstructured physical activity reduces the chances of obesity and weight-related issues and improves their mood and emotional well-being.

Let's get the ball rolling and get into all the benefits of getting your kids away from the screens and out in nature for some playtime.

What are the benefits of outdoor play for kids?

There are so many benefits that come from getting your kids outdoors in the fresh air and moving their bodies. Here are some of the best benefits:

1. Physical development benefits

One of the most obvious benefits kids get from outdoor play is physical development. Here are some ways playing outdoors will affect your kids physically:

Improved gross motor skills

When your kids are running, jumping, and throwing things around, it's more than just letting them have fun; it simultaneously encourages the development of their gross motor skills. Doing these typical outdoor activities requires them to use a large group of muscles, which will improve their balance, coordination and physical abilities.

Cardiovascular health

With all the running around and physical exertion, your little ones will get their hearts pumping properly. Regular outdoor play and exercise will maintain and improve their cardiovascular health and fitness. Subsequently, this can help lower your child's risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.

2. Cognitive development benefits

Outdoor play is one way to help your little ones become more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Here are some cognitive benefits of outdoor play:

Focus and attention

When you want your kids to improve their ability to focus, you'll be surprised how much getting them outside to play games can help. Studies have also shown that kids with attention deficit disorder are able to concentrate better after playing outside.

Sparks creativity

Kids are in the prime of their lives when they're playing outside, and in all the excitement and blood-pumping activities it really gets the creative juices flowing. Outdoor play increases your kid's creativity because they're relying on their imagination to be entertained.

Builds problem-solving skills

Never underestimate how much playing outdoors can help kids develop their analytical thinking. Amongst all the fun and games, there are still problems they'll face, and they'll be challenged to find solutions using problem-solving skills.

3. Social development

Taking your kids outdoors to play means you're more than likely to bump into other kids of all different ages. Your children will be able to play with their peers, and here are some social benefits of outdoor play:

Boosted confidence

For those parents with kids who cling to you and are really shy, you'll love how outdoor play can help boost their confidence. The earlier and more your kids get outside and play with others, the more confident they'll be.

Social skills

One way to help your kids interact well with others is simply to get them to go and play outside in a park with other kids. Out on the playground of life, your kids will need to develop skills like communication, empathy, conflict resolution, understanding feelings, and sharing. Getting your kids to play outside in an environment with lots of other kids, like the local park or playground.

4. Emotional development

Being around others and interacting with their peers will help kids become more aware of their emotions. Here are some emotional developmental benefits of letting your kids play outside:

Boosted self-esteem

A kid with good self-esteem can take on almost anything the world can throw at them. One way to build their self-esteem is to get them out and play with friends. As they make new friends, take on new challenges, and enjoy themselves, you will notice that their self-esteem will start to flourish.

Better emotional regulation

Playing outdoors gives kids the opportunity to manage their emotions in a healthy way. Playing with other kids means they'll need to control their impulses, be patient and handle disappointment, anger and frustration in a calm manner.

Improved stress management

Even though they're little, kids can still experience stress to some degree. This may manifest as ongoing tantrums, crying episodes, or even sucking their thumb. Playing outside regularly helps them to reduce stress and anxiety levels and can prevent the episodes before they happen.

How to encourage your kid to play outside

Some kids don't need any prompting to run out the doors and spend the day in the fresh air. All kids are different, though, so some may need a little bit of encouragement. No matter their age, here are some ways you can help them enjoy outdoor play.

1. Start small

It can be intimidating for kids who aren't too interested or aren't used to playing outside or with other kids. The loud, excited screams of other kids running around and the big spaces with new surroundings might discourage them from playing outdoors again. It takes baby steps to encourage them to play with others. So, start in a calmer environment where you can keep an eye on them to check if they're unhappy, tired, or just need you.

You can start small by taking short walks through the neighbourhood or playing in the yard. These familiar spaces can make them feel comfortable while getting used to nature. The more they're outside, the more they'll want to spend time playing outside.

2. Make it a fun experience

When you make playing outside fun, kids will associate it with good memories and want to spend more time outside. As soon as being outside gets boring, they'll want to go back in, so make it interesting by incorporating your kid's interests. Does your kid have a favourite toy? Bring it outside. Are they interested in sports? Bring a ball. Whatever sparks an interest, but leave devices behind.

3. Take them to different places

There comes a time when your kid will learn that there's way more to outdoor play than sticking to the backyard. Sticking to the usual places can sometimes hinder your kid's imagination. Take them to parks and playgrounds where there are different structures like jungle gyms, trampolines and more for them to enjoy. The best thing is that these environments allow them to interact with peers so they can experience all the benefits of outdoor play.

4. Bring a friend or family member

Another way to make outdoor play more appealing is to bring along a friend or family member. Engaging with their peers outdoors is mutually beneficial and will encourage them to spend more time playing. Whether they're going to hang around in the garden or go on a field trip to the zoo or park, outdoor play is way more fun with your favourite people.

5. Go out regularly

People are creatures of habit, and kids thrive with routine. So, make outdoor play a regular occurrence and go outside regularly. This way, your kids will feel more confident as they get used to being outdoors.

Final thoughts

In the day and age of the iPad generation, now more than ever, kids need to be encouraged to spend time outdoors and play. There are way too many benefits, emotionally, socially, mentally, intellectually and physically. Always start small and make it as fun as possible because kids will want to stick to their comfort zones and will need a little help finding the fun of outdoor play sometimes.