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Why Playing Outdoors Is Important for Kids

Written by Debra Luben, M.D. on May 24, 2017 7:52:00 AM

We see copy-and-paste posts on Facebook about the “good old days” when kids left the house at 8 a.m., played outdoors and didn’t come home until the street lights came on. They almost always draw comments pointing out that kids today don’t enjoy the same life. While some of that might be nostalgia talking, it’s true the world has changed and kids don’t play outside as much as previous generations did. Still, it is good for them and in more ways than you probably realize.

The Physical Benefits

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Obviously, playing outside promotes constructive physical needs, like exercise, but there are other positive benefits you might not be aware of. 

First, it can reduce stress. You may not remember being 10 and comparing that age to where you are now, it may seem as if there isn’t much stress that goes along with being a kid. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Troubles with school subjects, bullying, divorced parents, issues with siblings – all of these are ways your little one is learning how to navigate a very large world. Spending time outdoors reduces stress and promotes healing. Playing outdoors can also provide additional vitamin D, a vitamin that most Americans – even kids – have been found to be severely deficient. 

For toddlers, playing outdoors allows them an outlet they do not necessarily have indoors. They can run, jump, climb, throw and catch to their heart’s content. While it may seem like a fun game while they’re in the moment, what they’re really doing is fine-tuning motor skills and improving their hand-eye coordination. Being outdoors also stimulates the immune system. 

The Psychological Benefits

Perhaps more than physical benefits, playing outdoors can provide kids with a wealth of positive side effects both psychologically and socially. By playing outdoors with other kids, they’re learning social customs, communication and how to share. It’s also been found that playing outdoors can even help with number relationships as most outdoor games involve keeping score or some other form of counting. 

Research shows that kids who play outdoors appear to have reduced ADHD symptoms, meaning they’ll have an increased attention span when they’re in class and it’s time to learn. 

Above all, playing outdoors teaches kids an appreciation of nature and the environment. All their senses are engaged. They get to experience the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feel of dirt, trees, insects or rain, whereas if they were to get this information from television, they’d only be experiencing the sight and  sound of the information they’re receiving. With all of their senses involved, they’re more likely to grow up more perceptive and understanding of the world they live in.

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Ideas for Getting Your Kids Outdoors

The good news is it isn’t difficult to get kids outdoors if you make it a habit from the time they’re little. If you have a tiny couch potato, however, here are some ideas for getting them outside: 

  • Be involved. Your kids love to be around you.
  • Go on a bike ride.
  • Do a family-friendly 5k.
  • Have a backyard campout.
  • Put on your slicker and rain boots and play in the rain.
  • Teach them how to garden.
  • Put a birdfeeder up and show them how to identify birds who come visit.
  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt.
  • Cloud watch.
  • Help them create a nature notebook with drawings and maps of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen outdoors.
  • Dig! You’ll find something to show them.
  • Visit a local planetarium so they can learn about the night sky. Then go out in the evening to see what they can spot.
  • Take them for a canoe ride.
  • Take a camera and have the kids document their day outside.
  • Build a bird house or a ladybug house – this brings wildlife to your yard and will also instill an interest in your child to be outdoors.  

    What other ideas have you tried that might help other parents?

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    Dr. Debra Luben is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus clinic. Her clinical interests are centered on preventive medicine and wellness.

Topics: outdoor play

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