There are lots of great reasons why outdoor time and nature play is really good for children. Research shows that children who spend time in nature tend to be more attentive, less anxious, and have better cognitive functioning and mood. Spending time outdoors is a simple way to boost wellbeing, and can provide many physical and mental health benefits.
Please note if that if you have a mental health concern about you or a loved one, help from licensed mental health professionals is available at BetterHelp.
Let’s take a look at why spending time outside is so great for kids.
10 Benefits of children spending time outside
Creativity and imagination. In unstructured, outdoor surroundings, children can interact creatively with their surroundings and engage in their own imaginative activities.
Increased confidence. The outdoor environment can be a great setting for kids to be self-motivated and self-directed. Knowing that they’re capable of making their own way when activities aren’t planned for them can be a powerful confidence booster.
A sense of responsibility. Learning to garden, or ways to respect and care for our natural surroundings, is a fun way to develop a sense of responsibility.
Stimulation of the senses. Spending time outside is a great way to stimulate the senses. Smelling, feeling, seeing, and touching natural things can be enlightening. Children who grow or pick their own fruits and vegetables can also enjoy the sense of taste, as well as an appreciation and discovery of where their food comes from.
Exercise and movement. The great outdoors is a fantastic place for kids to get moving. Playing, walking and riding a bike are all fun ways for children to get exercise in the fresh air. Outdoor play is also ideal for taking a break from screen time.
Resilience. Time spent outside, out of a controlled climate, can help kids build resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Learning to handle different types of weather, a scraped knee, or being away from the comforts of the indoors are small ways that kids can gradually grow their sense of resilience.
Sunlight. Exposure to sunlight can be a powerful tool when it comes to physical and mental health. Daylight helps regulate the body’s natural sleep and wake rhythms. We also need sun exposure to make vitamin D, which is important for bone health and a strong immune system.
Unstructured time for development of mental skills. Kids outdoor activities give children the time and space to hone skills such as multitasking and troubleshooting.
Time for valuable play. We live in a highly scheduled world, and children need time to play. As well as contributing to their wellbeing, play is crucial for their development. Play is important for intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth.
Lower stress levels, healthier weight, and better vision. More than 400 studies have shown that spending time in green spaces helps with stress management, weight, and vision, and is associated with other numerous health benefits.
So many great reasons to get children playing outdoors! But how do you actually tempt them outside?
Playing outdoors: 10 tips for encouraging kids to spend time outside
Need some inspiration on fun activities for kids to do outside? Here are lots of easy ways to encourage kids to spend time outdoors that will help to keep things fun and engaging.
Make outdoors play part of your routine. Make spending time outside a family habit. This will make outdoor time something that you all automatically think of as a normal part of family life – which will make it easier to get everyone outside. Build up a list of fun outdoor activities for kids that everyone enjoys, and refer back to it when you need some inspiration. My book A Year of Nature Craft and Play has lots of great ideas to inspire you.
Model the joy of being outside for your kids. As a parent, spend time outside yourself to set a good example for your children. You will of course also be able to take advantage of all those amazing benefits of being outdoors!
Bring the inside out. Do some typical indoor activities outside. For example, eat dinner outside as a family, or ask kids if they’d like to read or do their homework outside.
Start a gardening project. Getting everyone involved in some family gardening is a great way to be physically active, while also having fun and working on a rewarding project.
Give kids simple things to play with outside. Make some basic, fun materials available for creative play. Kids can do wonders with water, mud, containers, bubbles, shovels, or a ball – you don’t need lots of fancy toys and equipment.
Take a bike ride or a walk to a fun place. For example, go for a walk to a park you don’t usually visit, or cycle to the library or the shops. You can easily turn this into a day trip with a picnic, or by adding a couple of destinations to your route.
Help children learn to identify plants, bugs and birds. Children are naturally curious about the world around them, and nature provides so many fun opportunities to explore and learn. You could have a garden wildlife hunt, go bird spotting in the park, or try a simple outdoor scavenger hunt. My printable bucket lists for spring, summer, autumn and winter have lots more outdoor kids activities and is a great way to get inspired.
Encourage messy play. Let kids know they won’t be in trouble if they get wet or dirty. They can wear old or easy-to-wash clothes to make things easier.
Be casual about outdoor play. If playing outdoors becomes mandatory or a power struggle, kids may not want to go outside. Avoid this by approaching the idea of kids playing outside as a fun option that they can do at some point in the day. It’s also a good idea to give them some control over when they head outdoors.
Control and address worries – both for parents and kids. Is worrying about safety holding you back from encouraging your child to spend time outside? If the answer is yes, try to realistically assess your worries. For example, you can remove obstacles or hazards you’re worried about in the garden, sit outside and supervise while your child plays, or talk to your child about safety and rules when playing outdoors. If you’re relaxed about outdoor playing, your child will have a better time, and will be more likely to play outside again.
Hopefully these tips on playing outside have helped you understand the benefits of outdoor play for kids, and given you lots of ideas for ways to get kids playing outdoors and having fun. Spending time outside really can have a hugely positive impact on physical and mental health and healthy development for children. Behaviour, learning, sleep, mood and outlook can all improve as a result of being outside more. And of course, interacting with the great outdoors is also lots of fun!
What’s your top tip for helping kids benefit from outdoor time?