We always hear that it is important for our children to play outdoors. But why? It seems like this is just a common trope passed on from generations of parents who wanted to get their children out of the house.
Is it lazy parenting to just say “go outside for an hour and leave me the heck alone”? The simple answer is no.
In this article, we will cover the advantages of outdoor play and how it can benefit the health and welfare of your child.
The absolute best source of Vitamin D is sunlight and yet there are many in the healthcare field who claim that one of our largest nutritional deficiencies is Vitamin D. How can this be? Well, we don’t spend enough time playing outside.
What are the benefits of Vitamin D and why are they important? Vitamin D is essential for bone growth and musculoskeletal health in children and adolescents.
According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Vitamin D levels have a bearing on a child’s bone density and other disease risks.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with depression, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders.
Obviously, we don’t want our children to be overexposed to harmful UV rays, so how much sunlight does a child need? According to the World Health Organization, about 5-15 minutes of direct sunlight in the spring and summer is good for high Vitamin D levels. After that, you will want to make sure that your children have appropriate sunblock, hats, and play in a shaded area.
What if it is too cold or wet to play outside? There are some foods that have Vitamin D. Here is a short list- Fatty Fish (salmon, tuna, halibut), egg yolks, fortified milk, and fortified cereals. You can also supplement with Vitamin D tablets after discussing options with your doctor.
When our children are lazing about on the couch watching their tablets, they can be eerily still. Mesmerized by the woman opening plastic toy eggs on YouTube or staring blankly at Teen Titans Go my children go into complete physical shutdown. Unfortunately, my children also tend to snack while watching their “smart” devices.
A huge benefit of outdoor play is that it will improve physical fitness. We all want our children to maintain a healthy body weight and develop their motor skills. Another benefit of outdoor play is strengthening bones and muscles.
It is important that as parents we have an outdoor play area that is safe and conducive to active play. We are fortunate enough to have a large backyard that our children can climb trees and dig in the garden but finding a park with suitable equipment is just as beneficial. Running, jumping, climbing, digging, and swinging aid in proper muscle development.
Along with helping to achieve a healthy body image, active outdoor play has many mental health benefits as well.
Just spending time playing outside with family and friends can improve memory and learning function. Active outdoor play helps to reset the brain which can be beneficial to your child’s learning in the classroom.
The time spent exercising outdoors will also improve energy levels and elevate the child’s mood. After sitting on the couch watching his tablet for an hour my son is lethargic and cranky. The blue light that he is absorbing is detrimental to his sleep. I find that outdoor play improves the sleep my children get, and they are generally happier after 30-60 mins of play after school.
Playing with friends outside also has the massive benefit of building social relationships. If I let my children have their way, they would just watch Netflix and YouTube all day. I try to schedule as many play dates as possible so that they will be able to socialize in a normal way and not get stuck into a routine of school, homework, iPad, and bed.
Confidence is also a nice benefit of increased outdoor play. If a child has the strength to climb, the agility to jump, and the endurance to run, then they will have the physical confidence to take up different sports and new games on the playground. They will also have the confidence to make new friends because of all the practice they have had socializing outdoors.
Connecting With The Environment
Active outdoor play will help your child appreciate the wonders of nature. My children love playing in the garden and are mesmerized by the fact that a little seed has sprouted into a vegetable that they can eat at dinnertime.
My son enjoys playing under the trees and watching the ants crawl up and down the tree trunk and into their little hills. My daughter is always trying to catch butterflies and is constantly asking questions about where they sleep and what they eat.
There are so many games that children can play that will help them appreciate nature. Whether it is guessing a tree type based on leaf shape, figuring out which types of birds live in the neighborhood, or naming the flowers in the yard, children can connect with all types of flora and fauna that will stimulate their minds.
Outdoor playing opportunities are endless. There are so many benefits to active outdoor play that will enhance our children’s physical, and mental abilities that we should really make it a priority in their lives. Please contact us and let us know what your ideas are for active outdoor stimulation!