Kids and Outside: Why They Need to Go There


There is a problem in our society nowadays, and it has nothing to do with what is going on in the White House. It is with our kids. We, as a society, are not playing enough outside. However it is important to note that, “The average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.” (National Wildlife Foundation, Health Benefits)

So with roughly kids spending about 7-8 hours a day with schoolwork, with the number increasing for older students and being less for those younger students. According to one study done by Rhonda Clements, of Hofstra University, “The results…reinforce the notion that many children today are overly passive in nature: they amuse themselves in front of television sets, push buttons on computer games, and use remote controls to move electronic toys, thus isolating themselves from peer groups.”

This is becoming a problem as a study about the Importance of Outdoor Play and its Impact on Brain Development in Children said, “those under the age of 7 seem to expend about 20 to 30 percent less energy in physical activity than the level recommended by the World Health Organization.”

It has honestly gotten to the point where kids are not getting enough time to play, according to the Child Mind Institute, “The national panic about kids spending too much time indoors has become so extreme that the crisis has a name: Nature deficit disorder. While calling it a disorder might be merely rhetorical, it is clear kids spend significantly more time inside than outside.”

So why should we get our kids to go outside?

There are many benefits to this, as the same study done about the Importance of Outdoor Play and its Impact on Brain Development in Children by the University of Missouri: Kansas City found that there are benefits of infants being outdoors; these benefits allow infants too:

  • Listen to outdoor noises around them such as cars, airplanes, and other children at play
  • Experience different weather patterns such as hot, cold, wind, sun, rain
  • Stimulate their eyes by observing different colors and objects that are shiny, bright or dull
  • Stimulate smells of all varieties
  • Adjust their eyes to the various intensities of sunlight Crawl on and touch both rough and smooth textures such as grass, sand, concrete, leaves
  • Grasp items such as sand and leaves using fine motor skills
  • Inhale fresh air to decrease risk for germs

The same study listed some ways for infants to be able to experience outdoor play in the following manners:

  • Lay a blanket down and have tummy time outside
  • Introduce grass, leaves and sand in their hands as they exercise fine motor skills of touching and holding these items
  • Play with small colorful balls or blocks
  • Face the infant toward children at play to stimulate their eyes
  • Place the infant in a safely secured swing
  • Play in a sand box
  • Stimulate noises and point out the various sounds
  • Push an infant in a stroller around the neighborhood or park

The study lists for older infants that some benefits of playing outside are:

  • Reduce stress, fear, anxiety, and irritability Increase joy, intimacy, self-esteem
  • Make choices and options
  • Teach relationships built on inclusion rather than exclusions
  • Improve non-verbal skills and increase attention and attachment
  • Improve gross motor exploration
  • Increase balance and flexibility Increase the efficiency of immune, heart and endocrine systems
  • Strengthen immune system and overall physical health.

For toddlers outdoor play is very important as this is the exciting age where they are learning about their world, and, “In 15-18 months: Toddler Development it states that your toddler is curious about everything and is keen to play, experiment and explore. It also goes on to state that play has a very important role during this age and it develops thinking, imagination and creativity” (Importance of Outdoor Play, UMKC)

Some ways that young toddlers benefit from outdoor play at this age are:

  • Make friends and interact socially
  • Learn independently, as toddlers do not share at this age because they believe they are the center of the world and they think that everything belongs to them
  • See how things work by using open-ended toys such as blocks, pegs and cardboard boxes.
  • Use their imaginations and being creative through pretend play.
  • Engage with siblings and other children even if they are not directly playing with them.

For those more preschool age there are different and many benefits for the kids that are allowed to play outside. Those reasons are as follows:

  • Increase creativity and imagination
  • Enhance opportunities to make decisions, solve problems, and collaborate with peers
  • Promote language and communication skills by having an increase in social interactions between children
  • Improve awareness, reasoning, and observational skills
  • Gain mathematical concepts
  • Grasp science concepts
  • Explore ordinary objects
  • Enjoy their newfound abilities
  • Begin to grasp spatial awareness (distance, speed, location, and direction)
  • Know right from wrong
  • Improve academics and literacy
  • Nurture emotional and cognitive development
  • Promote children to work together towards a common goal
  • Decreased rates of obesity
  • Foster interactions with peers and adults
  • Improve Communication skills and vocabulary (as they invent, modify, and enforce rules).
  • Number relationships (as they keep score and count)
  • Gain social customs (as they learn to play together and cooperate).
  • Play becomes more creative Outdoor play allows for expending energy

In fact, no matter what the age, outdoor play is important for the body, and according to the National Wildlife Foundation, some health benefits on the body are:

  • Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, an important strategy in helping the one in three American kids who are obese get fit.
  • Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
  • Being out there improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness.

When the kids finally are school-aged, they rely on the school system to allow them to go outside in certain periods, if at all. In fact, according to an article in Time, “a study found that only six states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Illinois and Iowa — adhere to standards from the National Association of Sports and Physical Education that schoolchildren participate in 150 minutes a week of physical education. And just three states — Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska — have 20 minutes of mandatory elementary-school recess a day.”

So why should kids go outside when they are school aged? Because honestly, their minds benefit from playing at this age. In the study from University of Missouri: Kansas City; they found that school aged children benefited from outdoor play in these ways:

  • Increase the flow of blood to the brain. The blood delivers oxygen and glucose, which the brain needs for heightened alertness and mental focus
  • Build up the body’s level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF, BDNF causes the brain’s nerve cells to branch out, join together and communicate with each other in new ways, which leads to your child’s openness to learning an more capacity for knowledge
  • Build new brain cells in a brain region called dentate gyrus, which is linked with memory and memory loss
  • Improves their ability to learn
  • Increase the size of basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply
  • Strengthen the vestibular systems that create spatial awareness and mental alertness. This provides your child with the framework for reading and other academic skills
  • Help creativity

Going along with the benefits of the mind, outdoor play also helps with school according to an article by the National Wildlife Foundation. These are the ways in which going outside helps with youngster’s minds:

  • Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.
  • Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening.
  • Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills.

Outdoor play in another study found that, “adults can suggest outdoor play as an outlet for the child’s everyday stress. As all children frequently experience anxiety, disappointment, and even anger, a vigorous outdoor play activity can help relieve the child’s boredom or stress, and satisfy the child’s natural urge for adventure when he or she is given the opportunity to wear play clothes with a group of peers, and to not have to worry if they become messy or dirty.” (An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play, Rhonda Clements)

Anyway at the basis of it all, next time you debate whether or not kids should go outside, let them go outside. It helps in many different ways and it is beneficial for kids in the long run compared to those who spend only a little time outside. So while the weather is nice, enjoy some time outside. If they are under a certain age, try to keep an eye on them but it is beneficial in the long run. After all, going outside does make kids happier and healthier. So why not see the results for yourself?

Author: Courtney Swessinger

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