Why is Outdoor Play Important to Children’s Learning and Development?

Children these days are living quite a different life than what our parents or even ourselves remember from our early childhood years. Academic pressures have increased while living space has rapidly decreased, and so has the amount of time spent in nature.

Screens have taken over a lot of our attention, whether for learning, working or entertainment purposes. However, the importance of outdoor play seems to have gotten somewhat lost, despite its incredibly positive effects on children’s learning abilities and development.

In this guide, we’ll explain why we should let our children play outside and give little ones the opportunity to let their minds and bodies unfold in the great outdoors by highlighting the many benefits of outdoor play.

Importance of outdoor play

Outdoor play is seen as an important part of growing up by a large majority of theorists on child development and education. It combines fundamental experiences that are at the core of every human’s evolution, whether that’s exploration and imagination, risk-taking and problem-solving, or simply playing in the mud!

As our lives increasingly evolve around technology, movement and time spent outdoors are on the decline. On top of that, the recent pandemic has brought forth a whole generation of little ones who have not been able to socialise and play with other children.

Advocating for more outdoor play is important. These opportunities for children to connect with and explore their natural environment lead to the consumption and retention of a vast amount of information.

Through play, experiment, physical activity and creativity fostered by the great outdoors, our children learn how to be human beings. It is an astonishingly versatile and holistic approach to learning about our world. 

What are the benefits of outdoor play?

Now that we have covered the importance of outdoor activities and the influence it has on development, here are some more direct benefits of outdoor play. These include – but are not limited to – children’s ability to learn as well as their physical and mental health.

Physical activity

Younger children and toddlers need to improve their fine motor skills significantly. They require lots of physical activity to ensure their muscles and bones grow strong in order for them to become healthy grown-ups.

Without the spacial limitation that apartments or even houses sometimes bring, the outdoors offers a welcoming area which is ideal for using all their muscles. This can aid them in crawling further, running faster and jumping higher, all of which are activities that are critical to your child’s physical development.

On top of that, physical play in the fresh air has some amazing health benefits:

  • Helps to prevent childhood obesity and illnesses such as type 2 diabetes
  • Improves physical abilities and physical strength
  • Develops coordination
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Enhances respiratory and cardiovascular system
  • Sunshine can boost mood and supplies the body with essential Vitamin D

Mental stimulation

As children get to shed the excess energy that builds up from long hours of sitting in classrooms or at home, their ability to learn and develop on a cognitive level increases.

Educationists advocate the importance of having children blow off steam after extensive periods of learning in classrooms. Doing this offers them a fresh perspective and lets their minds wander.

Here are some of the direct influences of outdoor play on brain development:

  • Enhances the creation of neurons
  • Strengthens nerve connections in the brain and body
  • Makes processing easier
  • Supports mnemonic abilities (retention of knowledge and memory)
  • Gaining knowledge about the natural world (outdoor learning)

Personal development

While playing outdoors stimulates the brain immensely and is critical for healthy brain development, it also regulates emotions and stress hormones such as cortisol. As a result, being outdoors has a huge influence on our personal and emotional development.

Even grown-ups know the difference a short walk outside can make and have probably used the sentence “I need some fresh air” more times than we can possibly count! And all of that is for a good reason, which is why time spent in an outdoor environment is so critical from a young age onwards.

By spending time playing outside in a space that is mostly unregulated by adults and barrier-free, our little ones can:

  • Be more creative
  • Learn about their physical boundaries
  • Become more independent, self-aware and confident
  • Meet new people and improve social skills through social interactions
  • Make new friends through social play
  • Improve their mental health

It is also argued that spending a great deal of time outdoors engaging with our natural environment as a child increases our awareness of the environment. This allows us to become more sustainably-wired adults.

Sensory experiences

Touching trees and plants, playing in the dirt, smelling flowers, listening to the birds sing, feeling a cold breeze or getting tickled by the first sun rays in spring – these facets of outdoor playtime are considered sensory stimulation, which is another important factor for cognitive development.

While babies will most likely only enjoy the visual experiences of light falling through the trees and the increased amount of movement in the outside world, toddlers experience nature like a great sensory fun fair.

Through actively engaging with their natural world, especially by touching it, children learn how different objects and natural elements such as sand, wood or water feel. Their communication skills get trained as well, as they are trying to make sense of the world and use adjectives for the various emotions and senses they are experiencing.

A great way how caregivers and family members can support learning through playing outside is by asking the following questions during outdoor learning activities:

  • How does this feel?
  • What do these flowers smell like?
  • What noise did this animal make?

For more information on how sensory experiences have a positive impact on your child’s cognitive development, read our article on how sensory play helps children’s development. 

FAQs about outdoor play

How much time should children play outdoors?

A lot of research suggests that children should spend at least an hour every day involved in outdoor play. Especially after screen time, parents or caretakers should encourage children to spend at least 10 minutes outside.

What does outdoor play include?

As younger children are generally more playful, time spent outside can almost always be considered outdoor play. But to clarify, here are some outdoor activities which are considered outdoor play:

  • Hopscotch
  • Skipping
  • Flying kites
  • Climbing trees
  • Jumping in puddles and over rocks etc.
  • Tag
  • Roleplay
  • Hide and seek
  • Seasaw

There are lots of outdoor games children can play while spending time outside. However, the most important part is for caregivers and family members to interfere as little as possible, within reason, to foster their child’s imagination and creativity effectively and let them build their self-confidence and self-esteem accordingly.

How can I encourage children to play outdoors?

It is certainly easier to let children play outdoors if you have an outside area attached to your house or apartment. But for those of you that don’t have private outdoor space, taking your child to the local park or playground is probably the best way to get them outside.

By engaging them in one of the activities mentioned above, it is easy to encourage your child to spend time outside.

Toys like dolls prams and interactive dolls are a great aid in encouraging your little one to spend some time outside. You can encourage them to take their doll out to have some fresh air or to push their favourite toy in a dolls pushchair to the local park.

How does my child stay safe during outdoor play?

One reason why children spend less time outdoors is because of growing safety concerns that parents and caregivers might have. While it is perfectly normal to worry for your child, it’s important your little one spends time outdoors to learn about the world.

You may even be able to teach your child a safety lesson or two on your way to the park as you can explain to them how to engage in traffic safely and how to interact with other children and strangers.

Encourage your child to play outdoors with Play Like Mum

Even though our world is rapidly evolving and the way we understand and learn about our world is constantly changing, some things will never change. One of these is the importance of outdoor play and the need for parents to encourage kids to spend their time playing outside instead of in front of the screen.

Our range of dolls prams and pushchairs with matching dolls pram accessories helps to encourage your little ones to get outside and learn about the benefits of imaginative play. We offer a range of dolls prams including twin will strollers, dolls carriage prams, and cheap dolls prams.