A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation in the US found that the average 8-to-18-year-old American spends more than 53 hours a week “using entertainment media.” Another survey conducted by laundry detergent company Persil found that children in the UK spend less time outside in a week than prison inmates. Screens can give immediate gratification and be addictive. You can achieve success by going up a level and be entertained easily and quickly. Computer games and the like are not bad inherently. But they can lead to lifestyles and expectations that lack depth.
As parents, we can put a lot of pressure on children to use their time constructively. There can often be something perceived as more meaningful and pressing. Music practice, extracurricular, or chores.
Then there’s parental anxiety, which further prompts parents to stop their children from playing outside. All this is fed by fear of potential harm and the news cycle’s saturation with tragedies that don’t always reflect reality. We feel that child who is left to be outside on their own or with some friends is not cared for. If our children are outside, we often supervise or organize activities. This means that they sometimes lack the experience of unstructured outdoor time.
Importance of Outdoor Play
Outdoor play and brain development share a considerable correlation. And healthy brain development in childhood is the springboard for strong physical, emotional, and mental health. Such is the importance of outdoor activities. A lot of research has looked into specific things children gain from playing outdoors. For one, the Nature Conservancy surveyed more than 600 kids, and 90% said that participating in outdoor activities and being in nature made them feel less stressed. Here is an article on mental health in children, outdoor time can have a massively positive effect on this.
For another, Gabriela Bento, a researcher at the Department of Education and Psychology University of Aveiro, led a study that found that outdoor play promotes cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being, offering the necessary conditions for children to thrive and learn. Sitting all day in front of a screen may not yield the same results for your child. Instead, they may feel grumpy and irritable at the end of the day. Find more reasons why your child playing outdoors is important below.
- Leads to exposure to natural elements. When your child plays outside, they benefit from exposure to the open air, sunlight, and other natural elements that contribute to a healthier immune system through contact with harmless microbes. If your child has respiratory or skin problems like eczema or asthma, going outside can help soothe symptoms.
- Promotes emotional connection to the environment. Encouraging your child to play outside helps bring their attention to the richness and diversity of nature. This can be fascinating for children, prompting the exploration of nature. This helps nurture an emotional connection to the environment.
- Provides opportunities to test their limits. Playing outside provides the perfect opportunity for your child to test their limits. They can try something they’ve never done before, like climbing a tree or even scaling a fence. This prepares your child for when he or she faces an unpredictable situation. They will find that they have the confidence to give it a go without being sure of the outcome. It will promote resilience and all the positive benefits which come with failure.
- Improves their decision-making. Playing outdoors unsupervised allows your child to decide what to do, how to do it, and with whom to do it. He or she can think creatively, experiment, cooperate with others, and gain a deeper sense of self. What this does is improve your child’s mood, decision-making, confidence, self-esteem, and autonomy.
- Promotes a sense of companionship and happiness. A sense of companionship between peers grows when your child moves through the open and unpredictable space outside. More often than not, children develop a shared goal outside with other children and even with adults who join in.
Simultaneously, they learn new skills, gain knowledge and also teach others as they tackle challenges together. This level of cooperation supports the development of empathy. The more companionship they share with others, the more they understand other people’s needs and feelings.
Here we have an article on the importance of doing things with your children.
How to Encourage Children to Play Outdoors
Taking a less direct approach might be a better way to get your child to spend more time outside. A very direct approach might not work because your child might have a different idea. So you aim to create avenues that make them want to spend time outside without being told repeatedly. Below are a few ways to encourage your child.
- Discourage the excessive use of gadgets through reflective conversations. A reflective conversation isn’t the same as simply telling them to “Stop spending so much time playing video games and go do something else.” Children need to know why you want them to minimize the amount of time they spend with gadgets. Let them know that developing bodies need movement and that spending so much time in front of a screen can make one grumpy and irritable. What’s more, explain that it contributes to their mental and physical health, thereby improving their overall happiness. We have more advice on screen time here.
- Organize playdates and outdoor parties. Your child is more likely to step outside to play if a peer or friend encourages them to. The presence of other children is a huge encouragement. Your child knows that there’s fun to be had, and there are people present to share in that fun, plus activities to facilitate the fun. So when you can, organize those parties and playdates.
- Make outdoor family time a routine. Some children don’t want to play outdoors because they’ve never really enjoyed a day out with family. Making outdoor family time a routine can be a catalyst. Outdoor family time could be a walk, a visit to the park, a picnic in the grass, or a trip to the beach. Despite what you may think, it is definitely possible to make family walks enjoyable for everyone.
- Assign them chores outside. This is an effective way to get your child outside for some fresh air or sunlight on his or her face. There are plenty of outside chores to choose from. It could be watering the garden, collecting fruits from trees, washing a car, cleaning the windows, or hanging clothes on the clothesline. You should try and make whichever chores you pick fun so your child doesn’t start to relate time outdoors with boring tasks. For example, if your children are helping you sweep, you can turn it into a game of first to finish. Here we discuss age-appropriate chores for children.
- Create outdoor spaces that appeal to their sense of fun and adventure. Creating fun and adventurous outdoor space is one of the easiest ways to entice your child to play outside. There are so many ideas to help you create an appealing outside space. Fairy gardens, playhouses, archaeological dig sites, backyard laboratories, and outdoor kitchens are a few ways to make outdoor play more inspiring.
Final Thoughts on the Importance of Children Playing Outside
The wonderful thing about playing and interacting with others outside is that they allow children to pick their moments and socialize gradually. At home or school, interaction is almost always automatic because of the shared space. Not that that’s a bad thing. Just that having to choose their moment with others contributes greatly to the development of their social skills. It allows them to master ways to approach others in different settings.