Home » The Importance of Outdoor Play in Children

The Importance of Outdoor Play in Children

The cleverly entitled article “Our Children Spend Half as Much Time Playing Outside as We Did in the 80s” over on yummymummyclub.ca caught my attention as I researched the topic of the importance of outdoor play for children. As a parent, and wild child of the 80s myself, I couldn’t agree more.  In truth, its a topic that’s close to my heart since, in an era where televisions run 24-hour cartoon channels, and tablets and smartphones are so very easily accessible in the home, I’m frustrated with how these “smart” gadgets have seemingly come to control our daily lives.

Let’s consider these three interesting key points I happen to agree with in that blog post…

Outdoor Play and Social Development

Firstly, spending time outdoors is vital for children’s social development. There’s simply no two ways about it. In toddlers, time spent outdoors allows them to interact socially and learn how to make new friends and encourages them to learn independently, using their creatively and imagination through pretend play. You see, the basic act of “play” in a child stimulates important brain development. It holds a key role in building the foundation, organization, and capabilities of their brain.

Furthermore, these stages of development in the brain mirror the stages of play in toddlers. You see, preschoolers learn so very much through their five senses. There is a myriad of wonderful things for children to see to see, smell, touch, hear… and even taste, depending on the situation, in the strange world called…the OUTDOORS! <GASP!>

Conversely, and not surprisingly, children who spend a lot of time experiencing life through television and electronic devices, such as tablets, typically only utilize two of their senses, which in turn can seriously affect their perceptual abilities.

Outdoor Play and Physical Health

Secondly, because kids are spending less time outdoors (specifically, about half the time 80s kids were getting), physical health and childhood obesity have become a real issue, with some even referring to it as an outright epidemic. In a study entitled “Is the Canadian childhood obesity epidemic related to physical inactivity?” through the International Journal of Obesity, the results were clear…and scary:

“Both organized and unorganized sport and physical activity are negatively associated with being overweight (10–24% reduced risk) or obese (23–43% reduced risk), while TV watching and video game use are risk factors for being overweight (17–44% increased risk) or obese (10–61% increased risk).”

The study concludes that it provided clear evidence supporting a link between the rise of Canadian childhood obesity and physical inactivity.

Outdoor Play and the “Nosy Neighbor” Effect

Thirdly, and possibly the most confusing and controversial point I’d like to bring up, is how some people react nowadays to seeing children play outside. I’m not referring to free-range children, per say, but rather kids that play outside in their own secure, fenced in yards, without a parent being physically two feet away from them, staring at their every move.

If you let you child play in their own backyard, can that be deemed as neglect? To some people, it is. Well, reader, I’m not suggesting it is wrong or right to do so. However, I am suggesting that we consider our own boundaries within a child’s mental, physical and social development.

In truth, I was a wild-spirited free-range child (although, I must admit, I’m not too keen on that term since it reminds me of chickens). Forget the backyard; I didn’t have one growing up. Instead, my entire summers were spent in a magical, magnificent, mystical place called O-U-T-S-I-D-E. Where? Anywhere in the neighborhood. Oh, and I was barefoot most of the time. There simply seemed to be more grass way back in the 80s, for some reason. And in the evenings, I knew it was time to head home when the street lights would turn on. I remember vividly how disappointed all us kids would be when they would, and a loud, annoyed, “Ahhhhh-AHHH!” would be shared in unison amongst the kids.

Fast-forward to 2016, and there’s no chance whatsoever that I’d let my own 9-year old daughter do that. And yet, having said that, we do have a backyard, and I certainly expect my kids to go crazy in it. My toddlers and tween dig holes for bugs, wade through muddy water holes, roll, crawl and summersault on grass that’s way too long…and I never want them to stop. If you’re my neighbor and you think that’s wrong and negligent, come have a chat with me, and I’ll tell you all about the importance of outdoor play in children.