There is an abundance of research demonstrating the physical, mental, social and emotional benefits of outdoor play for children. Sadly, however, the amount of time that children spend outdoors has decreased significantly over the last 50 years.
The People and Nature Survey found that since the coronavirus pandemic began, 60% of children have spent less time outdoors. Also, with many children feeling anxious about the coronavirus, spending time outdoors, supported by nature, will support their wellbeing.
In the winter, the cold, wet weather and shorter days can make it harder to feel motivated to take children outdoors. Shorter days can also limit the amount of time available to be outside. Finding great outdoor clothing that’s easy to get on will make it easier, and of course, ensure that the children will be warm and dry throughout the winter months. It is well worth the extra effort to make sure that children get plenty of opportunities to play outdoors. The following are some reasons to consider and to help us get motivated to get out, whatever the weather!
Outdoor play lends itself to being active and will support physical development as children have the space to run, jump, climb, construct and more. All of these types of activities will help them build strength, stamina, balance, and coordination, which are all critical for their physical health and wellbeing. Not only that, but teachers will tell you that young children must develop upper body and core strength to facilitate learning to write.
There is a significant amount of evidence to show that spending time in the outdoors has many health benefits, including stress reduction and increased lifespan. When children play outside, they interact with dirt, mud, insects, animals and other natural objects. This helps to expose them to a range of microorganisms that improve their microbiome and immunity. Outdoor play is also the perfect way to get vitamin D which has been shown to assist in healthy bones, strong immune and nervous systems, and cardiovascular health as well as reduce the risk for some types of cancer. During the winter, it’s vitally important to spend enough time outside so that your body can make enough vitamin D to keep you healthy - It’s a great reason to get the whole family outdoors!
Outdoor play provides lots of opportunities to explore and enjoy open-ended play and the wonders of nature. The natural world offers a rich environment where children can construct a fort or a den, figure out how to climb a tree, explore the properties of water and more. Research has even found that access to green space is associated with improved cognitive development, memory and even higher standardized test scores!
Knowledge and Appreciation of the Natural World
Children who spend more time outdoors have a better understanding and appreciation of nature. They are more likely to develop the vocabulary, knowledge and understanding of how things work in the natural world. Spending time outside in winter helps children to understand and appreciate the beauty of the changing seasons. They will also see how plants and wildlife change and adapt throughout the year.
Time spent in nature has many mental health benefits for the young which can last into adulthood. Regular time spent in nature and green spaces have been found to decrease depression and anxiety, lower stress levels, as well as symptoms of ADHD. It’s even been found that children’s access to green space helps reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders in adolescence and adulthood.
Outdoor play is beneficial for children’s social development allowing them to practice taking turns, sharing, and having the experience of fun outdoor games. It also provides an opportunity to play with others and practice cooperation, language and communication skills. Of course, being outdoors is always an excellent way to spend time together as a family.