What are the benefits of playing outside?

Playing outside can benefit children in a range of ways. As little as 10 or 15 minutes can support physical and mental development.

Think about opportunities in your daily routine for them to spend time outdoors. Explore your local area. Or set up some activities, like a nature trail (this works in towns and cities as well as countryside) or a family sports day.

Here’s how it will benefit your child.

It helps children to exercise and stay fit

Children should aim to do 60 minutes of exercise per day. This could be running, climbing, skipping, jumping or kicking a ball at the park.Exercise helps children to stay fit and keep a healthy weight. It strengthens muscles and develops their balance and coordination.

Exercise is also good for mental health. It releases endorphins in our brains, which can boost our mood and make us feel happier.

It helps physical development

Sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D. This is important for healthy bones and teeth as it regulates calcium levels in our bodies. It’s also important for having a strong immune system.

Studies have also shown that playing outside can develop children’s motor skills:

  • Gross motor skills are our ability to make large movements with our arms, legs, or torso. There are lots of ways to develop gross motor skills outside. For example, running around, walking on uneven surfaces or climbing hills.
  • Fine motor skills are our ability to make smaller movements, often with our hands. Children can develop these skills by grasping small objects. This could be picking up interesting pebbles or holding dandelions.

It improves brain development

Playing outside can boost children’s language skills. They can build their vocabulary by naming the objects or animals they see around them. Ask your child to describe the landscape or find shapes in the clouds.

Some children may find they’re happier to talk outside. This might be because they feel less watched or overheard. With fewer people around, they can be more adventurous with their language.

Moving through new and different places can improve children’s spatial awareness. Playing outside often means children have to use their imagination and communication skills. They are likely to have fewer toys outdoors and so have to create their own games. This can increase how much children talk to each other.

It can boost mental wellbeing

  • There’s a sense of freedom that comes with playing outside. Outdoors, there are fewer rules for children. For example, they can run or play with a ball without the risk of breaking things.
  • Playing outdoors, especially in natural environments, can feel like an adventure. Children can explore and build their self-confidence.
  • Sometimes children may fall, bump or scrape themselves. They might feel a bit cold or get wet in the rain. This could seem like a negative experience but it will help them build the ability to bounce back. They’ll learn that they can pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes.
  • Some research suggests that playing outside can reduce levels of cortisol. This is a “stress hormone” and having too much can make us feel anxious. Moving your body and being outdoors can help limit how much cortisol you produce.
  • There is evidence that suggests spending time in nature can boost your mood. One study said that people who were more satisfied with life also felt more connected to nature.

It can improve sleep quality

Spending time in the fresh air is linked to better sleep patterns. Exercise can help to burn off extra energy. Regular bursts of exercise can make it easier for your child to settle when it’s time for bed.

Your child will be more physically tired, and this will help them get good quality rest while asleep. It can help them wake up more refreshed and ready to face the day.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers provided by the charity, Action for Children. You can talk to our parenting coaches online using our 1:1 chat.

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