Modern children have more ways to have fun than ever before. They live in the age of game consoles, online communities, and virtual reality. While these innovations can enhance learning outcomes and engage children in new and exciting ways, as Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.” We explore why outdoor play for kids remains important and how much time they should spend playing outdoors.

Why Is Outdoor Play Important for Kids?

Four boys playing ball outside in a park

Outdoor play helps children learn and grow physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and creatively. Few child-friendly activities have such wide-ranging benefits. Below are just some of the reasons why outdoor play is important for kids.

Promotes Health and Fitness

The extra space that children have when they play outdoors encourages them to move more. It’s a natural environment for very active play involving running, skipping, climbing, and throwing and kicking balls. Getting kids moving is crucial as childhood obesity rates grow. According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, 12.7% of 2- to 5-year-olds are obese. That number grows to 20.7% for 6- to 11-year-olds and 22.2% for 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity increases the risk of a host of health complications, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and mental health issues.

Getting kids involved in active outdoor play while young establishes healthy habits that can help them decrease their risk of obesity now and in the future. This kind of play also helps them develop their gross motor skills. These skills help children perform everyday tasks like walking, standing, dressing, completing chores, and playing sports.

Encourages an Interest in Science

Spending time outside provides a natural opportunity to learn about science. As children explore their surroundings, they can learn about plants, insects, birds, the weather, and more. Fun outdoor activities like planting a garden and making a sundial can teach children more about the world around them. Participating in these activities may spark a lifelong love of science that kids can take into their futures.

Increases Overall Academic Performance

You probably won’t just see your child’s science grades improve as they spend more time playing outdoors. Nearly 80% of teachers believe children who regularly engage in unstructured outdoor play can concentrate and perform better in the classroom, according to a 2010 National Wildlife Federation report. In 2017, a Norwegian study of 4- to 7-year-old children showed that those who spent more time outdoors had better focus and scores on an executive function test. These are just a couple of the many studies that find playing outside can enhance classroom performance.

Encourages Appropriate Risk Taking

Taking risks helps children rise to challenges and grow their confidence. Taking risks teaches them that they can do more than they think they can. They can also become more resilient and better able to handle their emotions if their risks don’t quite pay off. Outdoor play allows them to take appropriate risks that won’t cause serious harm to themselves or others. Under the watchful eye of a parent or teacher, they can challenge themselves to climb higher, jump farther, and push their limits.

Anchors Children to the Real World

Showing children an illustration of a lake in a picture book or a video of a family of birds can be educational, but it’s no substitute for introducing kids to the real thing. Playing outdoors lets children experience and feel more connected to the real world. At a time with so much digital stimulation, helping children feel anchored to the world outside is more important than ever before.

Improves Sleep Quality

A 2016 study of 2- to 5-year-olds found that young children who played outdoors were less likely to wake in the night than those who spent time playing indoors. It’s likely that a combination of exhaustion from physical activity, stress reduction, and exposure to natural light, which regulates sleep patterns, all play a part. Good quality sleep is important for children of all ages as it improves memory, focus, behavior, and overall mental and physical health.

Makes Children Happier

Perhaps the most important reason to engage children in outdoor play is the simplest: it makes them happy. Various studies show children who spend time playing sports or participating in other outdoor activities and happier and have better mental health. Being physically active stimulates brain chemicals that boost happiness and feelings of well-being. While the outdoors lets kids be more active, there’s a little more at play. When children play outdoors, their bodies naturally produce vitamin D, which releases the brain’s feel-good chemical, serotonin. Without enough vitamin D, children may experience poor mental health and struggle to regulate their emotions.

How Much Time Should Kids Spend Playing Outdoors?

Most child development experts agree that kids should spend around three hours playing outdoors every day. So it’s startling to learn that the average American child spends an average of just four to seven minutes enjoying unstructured outdoor play each day, according to the Child Mind Institute. It might seem impossible to find three hours for outdoor play in between your child’s classes, homework commitments, and extra-curricular activities. However, with the institute noting that most children spend more than seven hours each day in front of screens, perhaps there are opportunities to give many children more balance.

Help Your Children Get the Outdoor Play Opportunities They Need

With the fast pace of modern society, it’s difficult for many working parents to give their children enough opportunities to play outdoors. That’s where Crème de la Crème comes in. We integrate kids’ outdoor play into all our programs, from short before- and after-school sessions to full daycare and summer camps. Come see our first-class outdoor amenities, including playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, and sporting fields. Contact us to organize a tour at your nearest Crème de la Crème center and learn more about how we can help your child experience all the benefits of outdoor play.

Four Boy Playing Ball on green grass by Robert Collins is licensed with Unsplash License