8 Surprising Benefits of Outdoor Play

It’s no surprise that going outside and getting fresh air is good for your health, but do we as parents really know why it’s good for us and our kids (other than giving us a few moments of peace and quiet in the home)? When you tell your children to go outside and play, it’s likely that you hear a chorus of protests from time to time and simply respond with “because it’s good for you!” Those moments are opportunities to instead educate your children about why going outside truly is so important for their health and development. From increasing eyesight to reducing symptoms of ADHD to boosting the chances of your child becoming successful through the art of calculated risk taking, the many substantial benefits of outdoor play just might surprise you!

1. Diminishing the chances of nearsightedness, or myopia.

According to Pacific University Oregon, 25 percent of people in the United States between the ages of 12 and 54 were nearsighted, or had myopia just over 50 years ago. This number dramatically increased in a study published in 2009, in which about 42 percent of people in the same age group had myopia. Even still, researchers are seeing an increase of myopia in children, and have predicted that it’s possible that by the year 2050 roughly 5 billion people across the globe (about half of the world’s population by that time) will be nearsighted. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that a correlation exists between the dramatic increase in screen time with the increase in myopia in recent years. That’s why researchers suggest that by going outside to play, children can fight the development of nearsightedness.

While science has shown that myopia can be genetic, this vision refractive error can also be developed in childhood by not going outside to play enough. According to Optometrists Network, if children go outside to play for a minimum of 60 to 80 minutes per day, they can decrease their risk of developing nearsightedness by over 14 percent!

“This distance vision problem [myopia] generally develops during childhood, as the eyes are still growing, and occurs when the eyes grow too long from front to back (axial length). Myopia causes the light that enters the eye to be focused in front of the retina, rather than directly on the retina— and results in blurred distance vision. Myopia can be inherited, or can be caused by certain lifestyle habits, such as prolonged screen time and other near vision tasks. With increasing indoor “play” such as video games and watching television, the amount of time children spend outdoors has significantly decreased.”

2. Learning how to take risks.

Even though it’s our job as parents to protect our children at any cost, it’s important for their character development to have free will to learn how to take calculated risks. By encouraging your children to have an outdoor free play, you’re not only helping to foster their creativity, but also independence and opportunities for risk taking. Children have naturally free spirits and less fear; instead of seeing logs as dangerous obstacles, they see them as balance beams, and instead of seeing tree climbing as a potential sprained arm, they are a fun challenge to see who can climb higher.

By giving your child free reign to play outside in nature, they can become well-versed in the skill of risk taking. As they grow into young adults, this skill could transfer into having the confidence to chase their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, or have the guts to ask for the promotion they want. If you don’t let your child take risks, they will never know the height of what they’re capable of.

3. The power of sunshine, and immune systems.

If you’re ever feeling down, it’s likely that your parent or a friend will tell you to get outside and enjoy the sunshine to boost your mood. As it turns out, this is not only good advice, but it’s true for not only boosting your happiness and mood, but your immune system, too!

Sanford Health explains that outdoor light naturally stimulates the pineal gland, which is a part of the brain that plays a vital part in maintaining a healthy immune system. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School says that natural sunlight exposure increases the vitamin D levels in our bodies, which help our immune systems and bone development. It also plays a role in our immune systems by promoting healthy sleep cycles and overall happiness.

4. Increasing attention spans and reducing ADHD.

Most children nowadays could use more practice in focusing on one task for longer, a skill that has decreased in recent years due to excessive use of technology. Children who play outside every day show significant signs of increased attention spans because they are used to playing outside without distractions from technology, and by participating in self-directed play. Those with less outdoor playtime show a lower likelihood of initiating new activities, lower self-directed play, and lower attention spans. Studies have also shown that children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who play outside daily show significantly less symptoms. Everyone can benefit from having the freedom to play with limited creativity distractions, and from the calming effect nature has on the human psyche–  especially busy parents like you!

5. Forming an affinity with Earth. 

Imagine your childhood– do you feel nostalgic about making sandcastles on beaches that smell of saltwater and fresh air, listening to the sound of seagulls while gazing at a colorful horizon, remember the feeling of wet soil underneath your fingernails, or the smell of campfires in the woods while camping with your family? These are rich experiences for children of connecting with nature, seeing animals in real life that before only existed in their picture books, and understanding the raw beauty of the earth in its true form. 

The more a child connects with the earth, the more of an affinity they can form with it. While the world changes, mostly for the worst, it’s important that future generations understand the beauty and health of our planet that is at stake. By having our children play outdoors, future generations are more likely to care for our planet by wanting to become informed about recycling, composting and decreasing carbon footprints, helping to reduce the damage that has already been done, and ultimately creating a better world. Plus, if you want your children to eat more fruits and vegetables, nothing is more fun and tastes better than home-grown produce they can harvest themselves!

6. Boosting academic performance.

Not only can outdoor play increase focus and attention spans to boost academic performance, but the wonderment of playing outdoors also encourages children to take part in science experiments, creating art with nature, innovation, building, and the skill of curiosity, all of which can help your child perform better in school. In fact, according to a 2010 National Wildlife Federation report, 78 percent of teachers say that children who play outdoors regularly perform better in school overall, and even earn higher in standardized test scores. This is a result of the many benefits of going outdoors, from sunshine providing better sleep cycles, to curiosity of the world around them fully engaging their bodies and brains in ways school is similarly designed to do, too.

7. Decreasing bullying.

Having the freedom to play in wide-open parks perfect for team-building sports and games, playground equipment, tools such as sticks and rocks to build props for creative play, and enough space for self-initiated independent play all offer endless opportunities for kids to choose who they play with and how. The creative opportunities also decrease the chances that children will become bored and resort to picking on other kids. Instead, children who tend to want authority over others can become leaders through team sports or imaginative play. These factors, combined with natural sunlight, making people naturally happier and calmer, can decrease the likelihood of bullying that may be prevalent in smaller, refined spaces with limited opportunities for free play activities and more competition for attention, such as in classrooms, gymnasiums, or lunchrooms.

8. Increasing openness with parents and trusted adults.

Encouraging your child to play outdoors is really just expanding their learning space, a space in which they can learn confidence and build a more trusting relationship with you. When children play indoors, there is more competition for attention from adults. As noise levels grow inside with a lot of children, quieter or shy children may feel too anxious or intimidated to tell adults their wants and needs. In an open setting where children can be loud without the confinements of four walls, shy children have the opportunity to share their needs and thoughts with adults without any pressure of other kids overhearing. This, along with the confidence children develop from self-directed play, can create stronger, more trusted relationships between you and your child.

Get Off the Screens and Out the Door!

No matter your child’s age, there are endless benefits to turning off the tablets and getting outside to play. From becoming a protector of the planet to increasing focus and even getting better sleep, your child can become healthier, stronger, and happier by regularly going outside to play!

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8 Surprising Benefits of Outdoor Play