children playing in tube jungle

The Benefits of Outdoor Play in Early Childhood Development

Little boy running around, laughing, playing, and engaging in outdoor play

It’s undeniable that the digital age that we live in has many extraordinary advantages and having access to these digital resources is a great privilege. As more children grow up surrounded by digital media, and electric entertainment, it’s becoming exceedingly clear that this privilege is one that needs to be managed responsibly. With tech devices becoming increasingly accessible, the amount of time school-age children, and even toddlers spend outside actively playing has declined dramatically. Most parents recognize this issue and want to encourage their kids to be more active throughout the day, but outdoor play may not be a priority in a busy household.

Good “old-fashioned” outdoor play is essential for healthy development, especially in children’s early years. Being active outside provides little ones with valuable experiences that can directly impact their physical development, social skills, creativity, and even their intelligence.

Why Outdoor Play is Important for Healthy Childhood Development

Physical Benefits of Outdoor Play

Spending time outdoors in their early years directly affects your child’s physical strength, coordination, and even the development of their immune system. 

Exercise and Physical Health

Kids who spend more time outdoors playing are less likely to develop weight-related health issues because they are able to engage in active play. Children should have at least an hour of active play a day, and outdoor spaces are the perfect environment to naturally encourage this.  

Running, skipping, jumping, and climbing all help little bodies grow stronger muscles, and build up their endurance. Plus, establishing this positive relationship with physical activity in a child’s early years sets them up for a healthy attitude towards maintaining an active lifestyle into adulthood.

Improved Motor Skills

Many outdoor activities naturally help young children develop essential motor skills like coordination, agility, balance, and dexterity. Kids who are encouraged to explore outdoor environments will put their abilities to the test and constantly develop new skills through trial and error. 

If your little one isn’t walking yet, pushing them on a swing is a great exercise for early motor skills development! Swinging helps them engage all their muscles as they learn to sit up, hold on, and flow with the movement.

Sunshine (Vitamin D)

Vitamin D aids in immune system development, strong bone and muscle growth, and even allows our bodies to heal more efficiently.  It has also proven to play a big role in helping us establish healthy sleep cycles and mood stabilization. Our bodies require regular sun exposure to produce Vitamin D, and children who play outside produce ample amounts of it. 

Playing Outside Encourages Emotional Development

Spending more time outside playing can also have many positive effects on young children’s emotional development and build their confidence.

Confidence and Independence 

Engaging in outdoor play introduces children to new situations and encourages them to take positive risks and try new things at their own pace. By being presented with opportunities to try something new, children independently test their own abilities and learn new skills. This allows them to develop stronger self-awareness and a sense of independence as they grow more confident in their capabilities.

Appreciation of the Environment

Outdoor play helps kids create positive memories and deeper connections to the environment at a young age. These fun childhood experiences tend to promote an appreciation for natural spaces and the environment as a whole.

Playing Outside Benefits Kids Intellectually 

Encouraging outside play allows little learners to experience new things that will benefit their intellectual development and boost their creativity. 

Sensory Engagement

Kids will naturally engage all five of their senses while playing outside, which strengthens their ability to process sensory stimulation. For toddlers, outdoor play can help them build familiarity with a variety of sensory experiences, and promotes more positive responses to them.

Creative Thought

Children love to invent their own games and act out pretend situations while exploring the world around them. An outdoor environment presents endless opportunities for kids to use their imaginations and grow creatively. 

Outdoor Play Allows Children to Develop Important Social Skills

Playing outside can provide more opportunities for social development in young children as well.

Relationship Building

Public outdoor spaces introduce little ones to new friends that are oftentimes different from them. This can help kids feel more comfortable entering situations where they are required to collaborate with new people and practice skills that will be useful well into their adult lives.

Increased Communication Skills 

When kids make new friends they naturally develop an awareness of others’ feelings and emotions as they interact together in a safe and positive space. This encourages healthy communication between peers and allows them to cultivate relationships without the help of their parents or guardian.

How Can I Encourage My Child to Spend More Time Playing Outside?

After the year we all had, most children (and adults!) are eager to get outside and play this Spring, but some little ones may prefer the comforts of home. Whether your child is two or twelve, it’s important to encourage them to spend time playing outside and enjoying the great outdoors. 

How to Balance Screen Time and Outdoor Play for Kids

Outdoor playtime should be exciting and not feel like a punishment, but encouraging kids to turn off digital devices can be an everyday struggle for some families. Sometimes the best solution to get your kids engaged in playing outside is by using their favorite device in an outdoor activity. 

Try finding a kid-friendly dance video on YouTube that you can practice together outside. This will not only get children actively playing outdoors, but also engages them creatively and provides valuable family time. Don’t forget to grab a few cute videos to share with friends and family!  

Outdoor Activities to Reduce Screen Time for Kids

If your goal is to reduce screen time overall, try moving a typical indoor activity outdoors. Enjoying snack time outside, or having a BBQ are great ways to get little ones outdoors, and will likely lead to them getting up and actively playing. Art projects, science experiments, or even storytime are also fun things you can do with your children outside! 

At the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, we work hard to provide families with valuable resources that are fun, engaging, and provide educational opportunities for children and adults! Our PLAYology Playbook blog is full of at-home activities you can do with kids of all ages including fun outdoor projects you can do outside this Spring:

Enjoy Outdoor Play in Mary’s Garden at The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County!

At the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, we love that we get to share our space with so many amazing families and provide a safe environment for kids to learn through play! Mary’s Garden is a fun outdoor area that allows children of all ages to engage with hands-on activities and educational exhibits while enjoying all the benefits of outdoor play. 

Mary’s Garden is open to families and their kids to enjoy valuable outdoor playtime! Make your reservation to visit the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County today! 


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