We all remember what it was like to play outdoors as children. We were free to get messy, run around to our hearts content, and use our wildest imaginations. I remember spending my summer days running around catching fireflies with neighborhood kids until nightfall, playing tag and rolling down hills. It felt amazing – and for good reason.
Studies show that playing outdoors instead of indoors positively impacts children’s mental and physical health (Clements, 2004; Bell and Dyment, 2006). Outdoor play stimulates the growth and development of the brain, helping kids to think clearer and enhancing their ability to learn. Studies also show that children sleep better after getting fresh air. Researcher Rhonda Clements states, “Outdoor play offers children opportunities to explore their community; enjoy sensory experiences with dirt, water, sand, and mud; find or create their own places for play; collect objects and develop hobbies; and increase their liking for physical activity.”
But times have changed. Kids are playing outside less and multimedia devices – cell phones, tablets and computers – are everywhere. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are spending an average of 7 hours per day on electronic devices! It’s tempting to distract or placate our children with ubiquitous digital entertainment, but this easy solution comes with a price. Studies show that large amounts of screen time have been connected to learning issues, sleep disruption, and obesity.
You may have noticed that the problems caused by too much screen time are solved by simply playing outside. But how do we get them out the door? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer because every child and every parent is unique. You need to figure out what works best for you and your family.
If you don’t know where to start, here are some examples of activities I do with my toddler:
It’s not easy, but with preparation, a solid plan, and discipline, we can get our kids outside and enjoying the many physical, educational, and emotional benefits of play.
Clements, R. (2004). An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 5, 68-80.
Dyment, J.E. & Bell, A.C. (2006). Grounds for Movement: Green School Grounds As Sites for Promoting Physical Activity. Health Education Research, 23, 952-962.
Carol is a therapist at the American Fork Center for Couples and Families. She is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist.