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The Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids

In our increasingly urbanized and digital world, it often feels more and more difficult to cultivate a relationship with nature—let alone encourage your kids to do so. Often, it’s so much easier to let screen time go on a little longer, or opt for some other form of indoor entertainment rather than having to supervise outdoor playtime and/or enforce curfews. No wonder that the average amount of time spent outdoors has been declining.

However, when it comes to outdoor activities for kids, the long-term benefits may outweigh the short-term inconvenience. Experts agree that spending time outside can have significant positive effects on children’s health, well-being, and development. Here, we’ll give a brief overview of some of those benefits.

More Exercise

Exercise is essential for keeping kids (and adults) healthy, promoting healthy bone and muscle development, and preventing obesity. It also has a long list of other benefits, including helping kids improve their focus and mood. Outdoor settings tend to be more conducive to physical activity than indoor settings. Active play—whether that’s throwing a ball or frisbee, playing a game, or simply exploring outdoor spaces—is a great way for kids to get some exercise without it feeling like a chore.

Reduced Stress

For both kids and adults, spending time in nature has been shown to mitigate the effects of stress. According to the Child Mind Institute, urban environments put more strain on our brains because we’re constantly working to filter out distractions and stimuli. Nature, on the other hand, offers a chance to slow down, and has even been shown to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Higher Vitamin D Levels

Sun exposure is required for our bodies to produce vitamin D. In addition to supporting healthy bone and muscle growth and preventing rickets, vitamin D also helps regulate our moods, sleep schedules, and immune systems. Experts differ on the recommended amount of time that kids should spend in the sun each day; however, it’s thought that about 15 minutes each day is sufficient. For extended periods in the sun, don’t forget to use sunscreen!

Social Development

Another of the benefits of outdoor play for kids is that it provides an unstructured environment for kids to interact with one another. This allows them to develop organic social skills—how to make friends, cooperate, and navigate conflict—outside of more codified settings like school.

Increased Curiosity and Creativity

The natural world is full of mysteries and things to explore. On top of that, it also engages all of children’s senses (as opposed to just a couple, like video games or TV). One of the mental benefits of spending time outside is that it encourages children to use their imagination, and to wonder about the things around them. This, in turn, fosters increased creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking.

Robust Immune Function

We tend to think that the key to staying healthy is avoiding germs, but in fact, that’s not entirely the truth—particularly for younger kids whose immune systems are still developing. Exposure to microbes is an essential part of how our immune cells learn to react to certain diseases, and getting outside is a great way to expose your body to beneficial microbes.

Recent research has suggested that kids who spend time playing in natural environments have stronger microbiomes (the so-called “good” bacteria colonies that live in our gut) and more balanced immune systems.

Biking: An Outdoor Activity for Everyone

Looking for an excuse to get your kids off the couch and into nature? One of the many benefits of biking is that it requires that kids go outside to do it. Biking is also a family-friendly, highly versatile outdoor activity, and can be done anywhere from parks to cities to backyards.

Learning to ride through structured programs like All Kids Bike is a great way to ensure that your child gets a comprehensive bike safety education. All Kids Bike is a national movement dedicated to bringing the mental and physical benefits of bike riding to every kid in America. Led by the Strider Education Foundation, our mission is to make bicycling skills an integral part of kids’ elementary school education. Our Kindergarten PE Program provides the curriculum, bikes, and safety equipment needed to teach every kindergartner how to ride at no cost to the school itself.

All Kids Bike and the Strider Education Foundation depend on generous contributions from the community to do the important work that we do. Consider donating to a school in your area to support our vision of making this milestone skill accessible to children across the country. Contact us to learn more!