5 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children

Throughout the past two years, children have undoubtedly missed the excitement of playing outdoors and socializing with their peers. Last year, at least one in seven children globally lived under stay-at-home policies, according to UNICEF. All-time classic toys such as dolls, building blocks and cars were the companions to many children, and now more than ever so were digital devices.


Being outdoors is an important part of a child’s development and without proper exposure, can put a child’s mental health and well-being at risk. The average American child spends about four to seven minutes a day playing outside and over seven hours a day in front of a screen. Spending time outdoors isn't just enjoyable, it’s also necessary. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, being outdoors promotes:


Social interactions and collaboration – Playing outdoors can help children develop strong language skills, creativity, social intelligence, and confidence.


Physical health – When children run, jump, climb, throw and kick balls, and ride toys that require balance, they build gross motor skills and start developing a habit of being active.


Higher attention spans and lower stress levelsA growing body of research is indicating that children who spend time in nature increase their ability to pay attention and have lower levels of stress and anxiety.


The ability to take appropriate risks – It’s important children challenge themselves to do new and difficult things—pet a dog, climb some stairs, venture a little farther away from a caregiver and then return. Playing outside provides opportunities to run faster, climb higher, jump farther, and more—all under the watchful eye of a caring adult.


STEM skills – The outdoors is the perfect place for big (and messy) projects that support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills, such as building, sand and water play, and investigations of the natural world. 


“It is important for children to be outside and active. Some foundational social, motor, and cognitive skills are developed when children play outdoors,” says Dr. Desire Christensen, psychiatrist with Aspirus Behavioral Health in Stevens Point. “Playing outdoors helps children learn how to solve problems, build relationships with others outside their family and gain a respect for nature. Being in nature also positively effects children’s mental health by keeping them grounded and helping them regulate anxiety responses.”


It can be challenging to take young children outside. From naps to mealtimes, sunscreen to mittens, a trip outdoors might feel like a lot of work, but outdoor play is worth the time and effort.


Aspirus encourages children to experience the benefits of being outside. Whether it’s kicking a ball around, building mudpies in the sandbox, swinging on the swings, or simply enjoying nature, spending time outside can make kids happier and healthier.