Playing Outside: So Many Benefits, So Many Possibilities!

at the pond 150x150 Playing Outside: So Many Benefits, So Many Possibilities! Question: We live in an apartment, and playing outside isn’t easy. I can’t just send my kids out on their own (Shawna is 4 and Cooper is 6). Is it worth all the trouble of getting them ready to go out—no matter the weather—and accompanying them for an outing every day?

Answer: Yes! Playing outside has enough benefits that—unless you’ve got really good reasons not to go out on a certain day—it’s worth trying to make time for it every day. Playing outside can expand Shawna’s and Cooper’s imaginations, stimulate all their senses, and free their spirits in ways that indoor activities—very much including screentime—can never do.

The benefits of playing outside

  1. Relaxation. Fresh air soothes the senses, which is good for all of us, but can be particularly important for kids with attention issues. Playing outside reduces anxiety.
  2. Happiness. Playing outside—including sunshine, fresh air, and physical activity—makes children (and adults) happier. It encourages good moods, and reduces tendencies toward depression.
  3. Health. Playing outside is good for the immune system. Also, kids who spend all their time inside usually don’t get enough Vitamin D, which is required for healthy bones and teeth, and more.
  4. Weight control. Playing outside for an hour a day reduces the likelihood of obesity and diabetes.
  5. Academic achievement. The brain needs oxygen just as much as muscles do. Children who spend time playing outside every day have longer attention spans, and higher frustration tolerance, and do better in school.
  6. Creativity. Playing outside—when it’s not structured by adults—is filled with opportunities for imagination, exploration, and self-discovery.
  7. Sensory stimulation. Playing outside means that children are seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching things they don’t usually interact with.
  8. Attention. Playing outside builds kids’ attention spans.   
  9. Respect for nature. Watching bugs, birds, squirrels, and dogs helps kids understand and feel connected to nature.
  10. Problem-solving abilities. When playing outside, kids have to pay attention to a less regulated or predictable environment. By working out the unfamiliar problems posed by nature, they learn about solving other kinds of problems, too.
  11. Pattern recognition. The natural world is full of patterns: the petals on flowers, spots on bugs, bark on trees, all form patterns.   
  12. Expansiveness. Playing outside increases kids’ awareness of scope and possibility. Their world literally gets larger when they spend time outside in nature.

Practical tips for playing outside

  1. Find or make a convenient and inviting space. If your apartment building doesn’t have a playground, and there isn’t anything within a few minutes walk, see if you can work with other parents in your neighbourhood to create some good outdoor space. Many parents have done just that:
  2. Investigate community gardens in your neighbourhood. Shawna and Cooper are old enough to enjoy planting, tending, and harvesting their own fruits, flowers, and vegetables. This has all kinds of benefits in addition to getting you all outside every day.
  3. Take snacks and a few toys to the park. Playing outside doesn’t have to be complicated. You can play pick-up soccer or catch. Toss a Frisbee. Play monkey-in-the-middle. Blow bubbles. Play tag. After a short period of time, and a few days at the same park, you’ll find others joining in.
  4. Go on a nature walk. Follow your kids’ interests, and collect leaves or bugs or photographs. Encourage their imagination and interests; take note of their questions for further investigation.
  5. Get wet!  On a hot day, look for a sprinkler, wading pool, or swimming pool in your neighbourhood.
  6. Spend time with your children in nature. Look for opportunities for longer outdoor excursions, maybe on weekends. You can go hiking, biking, or walking together in a beautiful place.

More thoughts on playing outside:

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