Benefits of outdoor play



It’s no secret that there has been a great shift in the types of activities that children prefer. The Child Mind Institute states that the average American child spends 4-7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside, while spending over seven hours a day in front of a screen. These numbers are concerning and are directly correlated to the increase of mental-health concerns in young students.

There are many benefits of outdoor, unstructured play for children. Unstructured time outside is important to foster many skills, including creativity, responsibility and confidence, and is said to reduce stress. Outdoor play also increases Vitamin D levels, physical health and overall mood.

  • Playing outside promotes creativity. When children participate in unstructured play outside, they are challenged to create their own activities, use their surrounding resources and interact socially with those around them.
  • This environment teaches responsibility because children quickly learn that, in nature, living things do not survive if they are not tended to. Children learn how to care for the living things in their environment.
  • Confidence is built from the choices children are able to make. Children have the power to make decisions about what activities they want to play and where.
  • Playing outside reduces stress for children by eliminating outside stressors such as homework, social media, technology, etc.
  • Another benefit of outdoor play in the increase of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health, and is absorbed from sun exposure. It is important for time in the sun as this vitamin is not as easily absorbed in large quantities through food.
  • Outdoor play promotes better physical health due to the large space for children to move, play, and explore. When children play inside, they are often restricted regarding what they can do. Several sources suggest that children need at least one hour of physical exercise a day.

To create the right environment for outdoor learning, it is important to ensure suitable areas for play by keeping your outdoor areas safe from harmful tools or hazards such as chemicals. It is important to listen to your child’s feedback and interests, plan outdoor time into your busy daily schedule and reduce barriers for outdoor play time.

There are several different activities you can do with your child outside. Finding a local park with a playground, taking a walk, throwing a frisbee, swimming at the local pool or taking a hike are all great activities for students. Joining sports teams or club activities that have scheduled practices are great ways to incorporate physical activity and outdoor play, if this works for your family. It is important to note that students are more willing to play and spend time outside if they have positive role models modeling this behavior.

Outdoor play has many great benefits. How can you begin to reduce screen time and increase unstructured outdoor play for your child?

Jenna Kruse, LCSW, serves as Youth First social worker at Holy Rosary School in Evansville.