Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that many families fill every spare moment in their kids’ schedules with extra-curricular activities and after-school programs, with less and less time being spent outdoors.
But outdoor play shouldn’t be viewed as a waste of time. Getting quality unstructured play time and plenty of fresh air has tremendous benefits for your little ones.
#1 Better Physical Health
There are tons of options for physical activity in big spaces like gardens or parks, and that goes a long way in improving kids’ gross motor skills. Additionally, activities like throwing a frisbee for the family dog, playing catch, whizzing through the air on swings or simply running and jumping, outdoor play aren’t just fun—they’re great for aerobic exercise. Time out in the sun also helps the body to make vitamin D, a crucial nutrient that helps to develop strong bones and prevent illness.
At the very least, kids should spend an hour being active on a daily basis.
#2 Improved Sensory Skills
A study conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that children who played outdoors often had better distance vision than those who were spent more time cooped up inside.
Remember that screen time only provides stimulation for two senses: hearing and sight. Outdoor playtime, however, gives kids the opportunity to touch, smell and possibly even taste their surroundings on supervised foraging sessions. This has a positive impact on perceptual abilities and coordination.
#3 Social and Emotional Growth
Having free rein to play together in open spaces enables kids to create imaginative scenarios. They take turns using environmental equipment like jungle gyms and work on their communication and problem-solving skills. When kids are given the freedom to imagine things that don’t exist, they develop skills like planning and negotiating, and they learn to take risks in a safe space.
#4 Increased Attention Spans
Electronic devices are frequently being used to distract toddlers from oncoming tantrums and to entertain older kids when they get bored. According to Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and author of The Attention Merchants, devices have changed how our brains work and there’s a marked difference between older and younger generations.
Young people have become adept at processing information quickly and switching from task to task, but may find it more difficult to sustain deep focus over a prolonged period of time. Older Americans have the patience for complicated tasks, as well as the ability to cope with the boredom that sometimes accompanies learning about non-exciting subjects.
Children who play outside tend to be able to stick with a task for longer and can initiate exploration and investigation. The research suggests that this is due in part to actively imagining and creating their entertainment, as opposed to passively receiving stimuli from electronic devices. There is also evidence that playing outside in the sunshine reduces ADHD symptoms in children.
#5 Nature is a Mood Booster
In 2014, University of Colorado researchers suggested that when children are exposed to green spaces, including schoolyards, they relax. When they unwind, it facilitates resilience in other areas of their lives. Not only does fresh air reduce stress levels, but sunlight strengthens our immune system and makes us feel joyful. Sun exposure also increases the likelihood of restful sleep.
So, for the grand total of zero dollars, you can get happy, well-rested and physically active children. The next time you’re setting the extracurricular schedule, remember to carve out space alongside piano and karate for unstructured time spent in the yard or at the park.
Getting outside to have fun and enjoy the fresh air is a big part of what we do at Galileo. We think that getting plenty of physical activity fuels an active and creative mind that our campers need to solve challenging problems and build creative projects at camp. If you’re interested in learning more about our upcoming summer camps in your area, click the button below to find a location near you. We have summer camps in Denver, San Francisco/Bay Area, Southern California, Seattle and Chicago!