Here is the last part of my talk. We’ve talked about why kids aren’t outside playing and ideas for how to get them outside playing. In this post I’m going to talk about the benefits of getting them outside and playing more. The three main areas I’m going to look at are: Physical, Social/Emotional, and Educational. A lot of the benefits cross multiple areas but I will do my best to break them down!
One of the obvious physical benefits of getting kids outside to play is the increased exercise they will be getting as opposed to sitting in front of the screen. Increased exercise allows them to burn off extra calories which decreases their risk of obesity. In addition, if they are outside playing they have to stop to have a snack whereas if they are sitting in front of the tv or computer its a lot easier to just snack compulsively! The decreased risk of obesity also brings with it decreased risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. In fact research shows that kids who play outside an average of 90 minutes a day in good weather have less risk of heart trouble later in life.
Vitamin D is also an important part of growth and development. It helps to absorb calcium and to control rennin and protein associated with high blood pressure. It is derived 90% from sun exposure and almost impossible to get an adequate amount from food and vitamins alone. Getting kids outside increases their exposure to sun and their natural production of vitamin D. Just make sure they get some sunscreen as well!
Playing outside can help kids to blow off steam and excess energy which can lead to improved sleep and better behavior. In addition the physical activity helps to build small and large muscles, strengthen bones and condition the lungs. Fresh air and exercise improves overall health by building strength, endurance and coordination.
Social emotional benefits of playing outside may not be as clear cut. One benefit is that it allows kids to move freely, make noise and self-express themselves in ways that may not be encouraged inside. It also encourages logical thinking and the ability to reason through highly interactive activity such as building sand castles, playing games with friends or exploring nature. Other things that are encouraged or stimulated through this type of play is healthy risk taking, stretching of the imagination, and exploration of what interests them while discovering what they like to do.
Time spent playing outside with peers helps to create social skills that are needed to create healthy friendships. In addition, they physical play (which creates the physical benefits) help them to gain confidence and are more motivated to try new things as their skills improve (running, climbing, throwing to name a few). Qualities of leadership and cooperation can also begin to develop. When children are sure of themselves and what they can do they are more likely to interact with others. Also, cooperative style playing encourages kids to play with others and work in groups. This also leads way to the development of conflict resolution when the need arises.
Unstructured play allows kids to develop their own styles of play while enhancing and supporting creativity and imagination. In fact in this article it tells us that ‘several studies have shown that regular unstructured playtime in nature makes kids smarter, calmer, more self-disciplined, more cooperative and happier.’
Sensory benefits fall under multiple categories but they need to be mentioned. Playing outside stimulates movement and sensory exploration. There has also been found to be a link between getting kids outside to play and a decrease in severity of ADD symptoms.
Last but not least are the educational benefits. Being outside in nature is a great way to introduce science and/or enhance their exposure to science. They also get to explore with their five senses. In fact its been found that kids who play outside are better prepared for their education as compared to their peers who primarily play video games or watch tv. In addition to that, children learn from motion, its how they develop their perceptual abilities so if they are sitting in front of a screen they lose many of the experiences they gain from being outside.
I hope this has brought a glimmer of awareness regarding the benefits of outdoor play and exposure for kids. Once again, I’m attaching my power point presentation and if you aren’t able to access it and want a copy please send me a request.