Outdoor Play for Kids: The Benefits

It is hard to believe but we are nearly two months into self-isolation practices brought on by the COVID-19 virus.  By now, if you are like our family, the kids are probably bouncing off the walls with pent up energy.  If this isn't you, well then pin a rose on your nose.  I'm just kidding of course, you are one of the lucky few.  With the weather changing in many parts of the country, now is a great time to get the kids engaged in outdoor play.  Instead of cruising through your halls destroying everything in their path, they could be outside, being kids.  Who cares if they scream from the top of their lungs out there, AMIRIGHT? '

Just beyond our fence, we have about a half acre of woods that has a tremendous slope to it.  This past weekend, while my incredible amazing and beautiful wife and I were doing lawn work, we encouraged both of our boys to head out and explore.  It helped that they were inspired by Willi Schmidt from Pure Hunting and Jason Matzinger from Into High Country, which we were watching earlier in the day.  Backpacks in hand and some rather large sticks for "hunting" the boys took off into the great unknown to explore what lie deep in the woods. Disclaimer, because I can see all the panic attacks coming from our helicopter parent friends, we could see the boys the entire time they were out exploring and we encouraged them to check in with us every so often.

There is something to be said for outdoor play in kids.  It doesn't matter if you have a wooded forest behind your dwelling or a 100 square foot patch of green grass; kids need outdoor play and there are  a tremendous amount of benefits. Let's explore a few of these benefits today.  Whatever isn't covered, we'll catch in a later post down the road.

Benefits of Outdoor Play

1. Develop a Love for Nature

Let's face it, there are a lot of kids out there with a fear of nature.  If you checked out my last post, we learned from Richard Louv about the importance for respect for nature that we must foster in our children. I can't tell you the countless number of kids I've met who have been downright fearful of harmless beings such as worms or ants. Rather than face curiosity toward these creatures, fear caused them to freeze in panic and find ways to rid themselves of the situation.  Outdoor play from an early age creates interactions with everything that nature has to offer. We must let go of our own parental fear of kids getting dirty and let them be kids.

2. Foster's Creativity

Just like with my kids, getting to wander beyond the fence line instilled a great sense of creativity.  With their newly found walking sticks, they headed out into the great unknown in search for adventure.  Was their real adventure out there? Probably not, minus the run in with the occasional raccoon or opossum, they had to create the adventure.  Down the road, this can help with things such as boredom or even school work.  What teacher doesn't love a creative kid.

3. Improves Physical Development

Whether it is on a playground or in the woods, being outside improves children's physical development.  Swinging from monkey bars or a tree branch increases core, arm, back and grip strength.  Traversing over uneven terrain improves a child's balance and strengthens leg muscles.  Have you ever seen a child sit still outside? Very rarely, do I see this happen and more than likely they are running and not just walking.  This dynamic movement improves their cardiovascular strength and lung capacity.  If they aren't running, jumping, climbing, or doing some other crazy acrobatics, they are probably picking up sticks, stones, and whatever other items may break our bones.  These actions can lead to fine motor skill development and improved hand eye coordination.  Sounds like a win-win to me; I kid about the broken bones of course.

4. Improved Immune Function

Vitamin D is a building block of a healthy immune system.  Combine that with the mood altering affects of sunshine and a warm breeze, and you have the perfect cocktail to improve your child's overall health.  In addition to all of this yummy goodness, there are the benefits of your child getting their hands dirty.  Not only does soil contain good bacteria, but it also triggers your child's immune system to fight any of the bad bacteria they might encounter. Slowly over time, your child's immune system will become a super fighter against anything they might face outside.

5. Improves Mood

Crabby paddies aren't welcome in my house and when we encounter them, the best medicine is always sending them outside.  While it doesn't work all the time, it doesn't hurt. While they are being crabby outside, you can enjoy the quiet bliss inside while watching them from the window.  In all seriousness though, the almighty Vitamin D that kids get from the sun is also a mood booster.  We've all heard of SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder), caused by a lack of sunlight; well a major cure for that is... more sunlight! Being outside has the same affect on kids as well.  In addition to the Vitamin D they receive from the sun, there is something about the openness of the outdoors that frees a child.  Don't believe me? Try it sometime.  The worst outcome you might face is a tired child, which in that case send them to bed for a nap or early bedtime... you're welcome.

While encouraging your children to play outdoors or engaging in the outdoors can be intimidating, the most important thing you can do is just start. Engage with your children while they are outside and make play out there fun and inviting. Hit the local park, find a fun trail, or even head on over to the nearest lake. If things start to go south, take a break, grab a snack and some water, and then head back out whenever things have cooled down.  There's no right or wrong way to engage in the outdoors. Being outside builds strength, character and ruggedness.

How do you engage in the outdoors? What are your kids favorite activities? What benefits do you see in your own children?

Comments

  1. I say let them play without someone looking over their shoulder, so they can explore, not only their surroundings, but also themselves. They can learn their limitations and fears, and work out how to overcome them, without someone telling them everything. The two boys can learn to work together, whether to help each other up the hill or to move a log to see what is underneath. This works well with conflict resolution and translates to everyday experiences, not just outdoors. Somethings just can't be learned indoors and with constant supervision. Good for you letting them explore on their own.

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