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  • Writer's pictureJunior Oliveira

Let's Go Outside: 4 Scientific Reasons Why Children Should Play Outdoors

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

We have noticed that nowadays, more and more children have less and less contact with nature, and I have been exploring a lot about all topics related to kids and their screens in my previous articles. When I was a child, I used to play outside with the other kids in my neighbourhood with most of our free time, it was so fun and exciting (but I have to say that it was during the early 1990s, literally last century), and I know it was another era in many aspects.


Just a quick reflection about the key points and possible driving forces behind this question: Research presented by BBC points out that a significant part of children would prefer to spend time outside if only they could, however, as parents we have to mention our fears for our children’s safety. Times have changed, and the streets are much more traffic dominated, and it is no longer normal to see children out playing as it used to be. According to PlayDay Organization, up until the 1970s, street play was typical. 71% of adults played out in the street or neighbourhood as children, compared to only 21% of children today. Understandably, parents nowadays are more reluctant to allow children outdoors. Another study conducted by National Trust points out that children spend half the time playing outside in comparison to their parents.

Does any of this matter? In an age of technology, I mean smart toys everywhere, tablets, Social Media and YouTube, is it actually essential to be able to climb a tree or observe birds? Jon Henley (Health and Wellbeing - The Guardian) explains: “Well, it obviously can't do any harm to know a bit about the natural world beyond the screen and the front door. And if, as a result of that, you develop a love for nature, you may care something for its survival, which is probably no bad thing”.

But what are the Real Benefits of Outdoor Play?

Outdoor play has been a fundamental part of childhood until recently, and some studies have shown that there are grave consequences associated with this shift. Thus, we should know that playing outdoors promotes wellbeing and physical development and specialists emphasize that children have a great need for physical activities and a chance to use their muscles to run, climb, jump, and to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. There are several reasons to enjoy outdoors, but I have included just the main outcomes that emphasize the importance of playing outdoors:

1: Improved Mental Health, Wellbeing and Self Confidence - The study “Natural Childhood” conducted by Stephen Moss shows a link between outdoor activities and significant improvements in psychological and emotional wellbeing in children. Also, it allows them to explore their environment and nature, and it will give children that extra boost of confidence they need when learning new things. Time outdoors may also promote stress reduction. Thus, children who spend quality time outside develop stronger immune systems and healthy emotional coping skills. Rob Wheway (The Guardian) explains “They learn how to cope with life and we know that it is very sophisticated personal development in which children acquire competences for life. These skills are unique to human beings”. Another important thing is those children that play outside grow up resilient, and it is essential to point out that children learn by experience, and also it promotes creativity and imagination.

2: Physical Development and Battling Obesity - According to the WHO (World Health Organization), childhood obesity is one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Regular exercise is an essential part of keeping fit, maintaining a healthy weight and combating obesity. Also, I would like to remind you that simple tasks, like walking the dogs with your children or playing in the local park, are great ways to increase your physical activity. Open outdoor play spaces, tend to be more cost-effective than indoor fitness centres and combine the benefits of fresh air, exercise and creative play and learning. I'm sure you can find a safe park nearby. Also, think about “portable healthy snacks” for the park. That said, an ideal strategy would give equal weight to play, physical activity, and nutrition.

3: Sun is the Best Source of Vitamin D - Outdoor play allows children’s bodies to produce vitamin D, the best way to boost your child’s Vitamin D levels is to encourage them outside in the sunshine during bright sunlight. A study points out that this Vitamin enhances mood by helping to release serotonin in the brain, help them to have healthy bones, and it controls the amount of calcium and phosphate in their blood. If you are worried about the risks, remember that we only need 10 minutes of sunshine on exposed skin (arms, legs, faces and hands) to produce Vitamin D. Thus the NHS emphasizes that it is essential to find out how to get enough without risking sun damage, they recommend that everyone must use sunscreen with an effective sun protection factor (at least SPF 15 - taking to account the UK summer) so, it is crucial to determine your skin type and appropriate SPF.

4: Connecting Children with Nature - According to Nature Mentoring, children who grow up having regular contact with the natural world are more likely to develop a lifelong love for nature and care to preserve it, also children who are exposed to the natural world develop stronger awareness, reasoning and observation skills. When you put children in a natural setting and give them unstructured play time. They naturally start to explore and ask questions about their environment! You can never predict what will catch the attention of a child. It might be bugs or flowers or fort-building or sliding down hills. Have you thought about camping? Camping is a fabulous way to engage with nature as a family and to establish habits that will stick for life. Take time to flip logs, lift rocks, explore hideouts, climb trees.

Fortunately, we can say that the summer is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to host a fun outdoor get-together. I love all the seasons because every season has its own treasures. But I have to confess that the summer is really inspiring, July is one of the most beautiful months of the year to enjoy Mother Earth at her finest. However, get outside no matter the weather, and even though it's cold and rainy, make the most of the weather, get everyone wrapped up and go and enjoy outdoor play in the rain. Have a look at my post: "Screen Free Summer - 15 free ideas to make your children unplug from digital technology"

I hope you found this post useful and informative. And please set an example, we all know children emulate their parents. If you spend all your time with your nose buried in a phone, they'll want to do the same.

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References: To see the reference/sources of this article, please click in each link within the text.

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