Children don’t just play for fun; they play to learn. Research shows that playing in any way helps develop core cognitive, social and creative skills, but the benefits of outdoor play for children’s development are infinite.
The playground and outdoor play satisfies a child’s basic need for social interaction with their peers, fresh air, play, and exercise. It’s a learning place where exploration, imagination, fun, excitement and laughter abound.
Playgrounds let children try new things, feel fear, get a bruise or scrape, experience winning and losing, and prepare for taking risks. On the playground, children can develop the skills to manage conflict, anger, and aggression and apply those skills to relevant situations.
In this article, you’ll learn how great outdoor play is for brain development in toddlers and young kids.
What is outdoor play?
Outdoor play is any activity or interaction that a child has with nature out in the open air. It’s what they see, hear, feel and smell out there.
It’s anything from going on the playground slide at the park with their friends to climbing trees or even just playing in the garden with their climbing frame or outdoor playhouse.
This type of play is a huge learning opportunity and you’ll see the benefits of outdoor play for children’s development in a multitude of ways – physically and mentally, including language development, as well.
Related Post: Free Printable Outdoor Scavenger Hunt for Toddlers
How does kid’s outdoor play equipment help development?
Outdoor play equipment is not only designed to be safe and fun to use – it is formulated to help your child develop mentally and physically too.
The Physical Benefits of Playgrounds
Playground equipment is also so important for a child’s motor skill development as they play. Kids develop strength and coordination as they climb jungle gyms and maneuver themselves through tunnels.
These activities give children much-needed exercise, helping them to avoid weight problems, both now and later in adulthood. Active play during childhood will help foster an active lifestyle into their teenage and adult years.
Children benefit greatly from the physical play involved with climbing, jumping, and swinging, as well as the open spaces that encourage active play such as running, jumping, skipping, and kicking balls. Outdoor play on these playgrounds is invaluable for their independence and the development of their spatial awareness, vestibular systems, motor skills and core muscles.
Swinging and climbing encourage balance, coordination, and helps the child know where their body is in space. These activities develop the child’s brain to make sense of direction, height, and speed.
As children dig, shovel, and pour sand into various buckets or scoop and grab at the ground cover, they develop dexterity and fine motor skills, as well.
Some playgrounds have additional features, including sensory areas with equipment like nets, colorful gears, and spinning elements. Using these tools will help them to focus their attention on an activity and use the small muscles of their hands.
The Cognitive Benefits of Playgrounds
Outdoor play and brain development are so closely tied together. Educational pieces such as storytelling chairs, insect inspection stations and activity panels are well-placed to encourage outdoor learning. They also encourage a social atmosphere where children can learn patience, learn to share and learn to observe those around them.
Then there are more solitary pieces such as swing and slides that have huge benefits too. While waiting to play, the children learn patience and consideration for others.
Other play pieces like the more active climbing frames, monkey bars and playhouses are ideally designed to promote their imagination. These creative play pieces get them active and using muscles they don’t in everyday life while challenging their linear though and allowing them to be more imaginative than they would if they were confined indoors.
Climbing also encourages problem solving and motor planning, as well as develops their awareness of cause and effect. Practical thinking, such as “how will I get to the other end” and “which foot do I need to use” help them to exercise their creativity and decision making.
Even the free play on the playground can help children learn to communicate with their peers, pick up on social cues, and practice regular conversation. They learn the need to share, take turns, respect boundaries, follow rules, and stay safe.
Self-esteem is also built on the playground as children learn to resolve their own conflicts and practice achieving a challenge that they didn’t know they could.
How Does Outdoor Play Benefit Children’s Development?
There is nothing wrong with indoor play at all. It’s safe, you can monitor them and they can still learn and develop. The issue is: you’re limiting them and their development.
As we have discussed, there are loads of benefits to outdoor play and brain development:
- Improved spatial awareness
- Muscle growth
- Fine and gross motor skills development
- Increased imagination
- Play and language development
- More developed social skills
- And so much more.
Sure, these could be replicated by indoor playing at school or your living room, but space outside gives them much more freedom. Freedom to explore, to be imaginative, to make friends and be themselves without intense supervision – it’s where they learn who they are.
Moreover, it allows them to come into contact with nature and breathe fresh air which can help improve their health more compared to indoor play.
Related Post: 11 Simple and Fun Outdoor Activities for Your Toddler
Access and exposure to direct sunlight increases the levels of Vitamin D in our bodies. For growing bodies, this is essential for bone development. Not to mention its impact on sleep, moods and serotonin production.
Playing outdoors in nature can also help build more regulated immune systems as it’s typically more biologically-diverse then the indoors. Children are exposed to microbes and natural bacteria which help increase their natural immunity levels and reduce the chance of autoimmune diseases.
These Skills Carry Over to Real Life.
All of these skills, when practiced and encouraged, will be used in the classroom and in real life situations. There is a direct correlation between play and academic achievement as an active child develops the necessary skills to learn better in a classroom environment.
Tips to Increase Outdoor Playtime and The Benefits That Come With It
The main issue is in today’s society is that kids are spending more and more time indoors. They are missing out on the essential benefits of the outdoor environment, which could lead to a slower rate of social adaption or reduced immune system defense.
Here are some top tips to increase outdoor playtime and the benefits that come with it:
- Take them to green spaces and let them interact with nature. It doesn’t have to be woody or big – any place there is something they can touch or see that is new will help. Let them move that big stick or balance on a stepping stone – these new experiences will help develop their coordination and learn.
- Playgrounds are extremely useful for outdoor play. The maintained swings and other equipment, along with the natural rubber flooring, offer protection and safety where more wild environments might not.
- Make sure they are well-equipped with protective clothes and shoes for their new activities. We’re talking waterproof shoes or wellies with good grip (hello puddle-jumping), showerproof coats for any sudden downpours, and it is always handy to have some gloves and scarf near the door in case of a chilly day. Dressing them right will help keep their experiences positive.
- Don’t be afraid of the risks. It’s all part of growing and learning, and there are not that many risks associated with outdoor play anyway. Yes, there may be scratches or grazes, maybe a few bumps and bruises, but provided they are well supervised, there shouldn’t be anything serious. These smaller risks help them learn boundaries and what to do to avoid future risk anyway, so they are overall beneficial.
To sum it up, the correlation between outdoor play and brain development is vast. Outdoor play in the woods, forests or on outdoor play equipment has multiple benefits for kids which far outweigh the potential bumps and bruise risks – and even those are often mitigated with natural rubber flooring.
So, let your kids take a trip into the green and onto the playground slide and swing to experience the creativity, social atmosphere and physical benefits of playing in the great outdoors. In no time, you’ll see the benefits for yourself.