Throughout the past
two years, children have undoubtedly missed the excitement of playing outdoors
and socializing with their peers. Last year, at least one in seven children
globally lived under stay-at-home policies, according to UNICEF. All-time classic
toys such as dolls, building blocks and cars were the companions to many
children, and now more than ever so were digital devices.
Being outdoors is an
important part of a child’s development and without proper exposure, can put a
child’s mental health and well-being at risk. The average American
child spends about four to seven minutes a day playing outside
and over seven hours a day in front of a screen. Spending time outdoors isn’t
just enjoyable, it’s also necessary. According to the National Association for
the Education of Young Children, being outdoors promotes:
and collaboration – Playing outdoors can help children develop strong language
skills, creativity, social intelligence, and confidence.
Physical health – When children run, jump, climb, throw and kick balls, and ride toys that
require balance, they build gross motor skills and start developing a habit of
spans and lower stress levels – A
growing body of research is indicating that children who spend time in
nature increase their ability to pay attention and have lower levels of stress
The ability to take
appropriate risks – It’s important children challenge themselves to do new and
difficult things—pet a dog, climb some stairs, venture a little farther away
from a caregiver and then return. Playing outside provides opportunities to run
faster, climb higher, jump farther, and more—all under the watchful eye of a
STEM skills – The
outdoors is the perfect place for big (and messy) projects that support STEM
(science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills, such as building,
sand and water play, and investigations of the natural world.
“It is important for
children to be outside and active. Some foundational social, motor, and
cognitive skills are developed when children play outdoors,” says Dr. Desire
Christensen, psychiatrist with Aspirus Behavioral Health in Stevens Point.
“Playing outdoors helps children learn how to solve problems, build
relationships with others outside their family and gain a respect for nature.
Being in nature also positively effects children’s mental health by keeping
them grounded and helping them regulate anxiety responses.”
It can be
challenging to take young children outside. From naps to mealtimes, sunscreen
to mittens, a trip outdoors might feel like a lot of work, but outdoor play is
worth the time and effort.
children to experience the benefits of being outside. Whether it’s kicking a
ball around, building mudpies in the sandbox, swinging on the swings, or simply
enjoying nature, spending time outside can make kids happier and healthier.