The importance of spending time outdoors and being physically active is more important for kids than it has ever been before. The number one health concern that parents have for their children today is childhood obesity. According to the American Heart Association, one in three children is overweight or obese, a statistic that has tripled since 1963.
A contributor to obesity and one of the main reasons that children spend less time on physical activity is the rapidly growing trend of “screen time.” Young children can spend as much as 5-7 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, using the Internet or texting/chatting with friends online.
While being physically active is important for building strong healthy bodies, there are other physical and mental benefits of playing outside regularly that you may not realize.
Physical Benefits of Outdoor Play
Outdoor play is crucial to improving a child’s physical well-being. Whether it’s building upper body strength with monkey bars or enhancing coordination on a balance beam, outdoor play gives children plenty of opportunities to build their physical development.
Develops Gross and Fine Motor Skills
With many types of playground equipment, children are able to build both gross and fine motor skills when they’re playing. Equipment such as swing sets teach older kids how to propel their bodies back and forth, while sandboxes teach little ones fine motor skills such as digging, shoveling, and pouring sand. As children grow, they’re able to explore larger play equipment, developing their existing motor skills.
Builds Cardiovascular Endurance
Outdoor play allows children to get their daily exercise without even realizing it! Running in circles around the playground, jumping off of the swing set, and climbing stairs all build up a child’s cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association suggests that children 6 years and older get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Children younger than 6 should get most of their exercise from daily physical activities such as walking, running, and playing.
Can Prevent Sickness
Children who play outdoors more often have the benefit of building up their immune system. Being exposed to fresh air slows the spread of infections, which is especially important during the cold and flu season. According to the PA Department of Health, studies have shown that children living in rural areas and those who are outside often tend to have better overall health.
Improves Sleep Schedule
Do you remember having to be inside by the time the neighborhood street lights came on when you were growing up? Outdoor light helps to set your internal clock, which leads to better sleep at night. When children spend the afternoon outside, they get into a routine that once it starts getting dark, it’s time to come in and start getting ready for bed.
There’s no doubt that looking at computer screens and other electronic devices for long periods of time can strain your eyes. With the rising popularity of video games, it’s important that parents balance their children’s time between indoor and outdoor activities. There’s no harm in letting children play age-appropriate games on their electronic devices, but when it becomes excessive, children risk damage to their eyes.
Increases the Body’s Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a vital role in helping the body absorb calcium. Together, the two promote strong bones, increase heart health, and fight infections. Unfortunately, there are few foods that give children the amount of vitamin D their bodies need. For this reason, children should be exposed to sunlight to help them receive the additional vitamin D they don’t get from foods and supplements.
Mental Benefits of Outdoor Play
Keeps Children Alert
Children are stuck inside for the majority of the day during the week, which can affect their ability to focus on their work. By having an outdoor break midday and playing outside after school, symptoms such as inattentiveness and hyperactivity are greatly reduced.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Whether it’s the idea of being outdoors or being in a “green” environment, studies have shown that children are noticeably happier, healthier, and less stressed after playing outdoors. The brain benefits from the stimulation of being outside, which is what factors into an improvement in your mood.
Builds Relationships Between Peers
By engaging in outdoor play, children craft new relationships and improve existing ones. These same relationships are what will shape a child’s personality as they grow. Quiet children may come out of their shell on the playground. Other children might learn to lead as they teach their friends the rules of a new game. Personalities emerge differently in an outdoor setting, so giving children the opportunity to learn about themselves will help them thrive for years to come.
How Long Should Children Spend Outside?
It’s suggested that toddlers get 60 minutes of physical activity. This is easily achievable through daily activities such as walking, running, and playing games. Parents should take this time to work on gross and fine motor skill development by participating in activities with their child. It is recommended that toddlers not be inactive for more than one hour unless they’re sleeping.
Children ages 3-5 should get slightly more exercise than toddlers. It is recommended that preschoolers participate in physical activity for at least 120 minutes through structured (adult-led) and unstructured (free play) activities. Like toddlers, they should not be inactive for more than an hour unless they’re sleeping.
Children 6 years and older should get 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity each day. Additionally, they should take part in a variety of activities that contribute to aerobic (heart and lung), muscle, and bone health.
Gym class, recess, and team sports can play a big role in children reaching their activity goal each day. But there’s also a way to encourage physical activity for your children right in your own backyard. Using age-appropriate equipment, your backyard playset can be a great way for your children to get their daily dose of play time!
Encourage Outdoor Play With Your Own Playset Obstacle Course
Through climbing, hanging, swinging and jumping your children can make great strides in building muscle strength. To take it a step further, you can also create your own obstacle course. Make it a competition for the whole family and time each other as you make your way through the course.
- Climb up a rock wall or cargo net and slide down the slide
- Weave your way in and out of the row of swings and other hanging apparatus
- Move across the monkey bars or do 3 pull-ups on the hanging bars
- Jump on a swing then swing back and forth 10x
- Run two laps around the entire play structure
- Climb up a rock wall or cargo net and slide down the slide again
Are you ready to encourage your children to play outside more? Explore our outdoor play equipment to get started!