By Jenna Kruse, LSW – June 29, 2022 –
It’s no secret that there has been a great shift in the types of activities that children prefer. According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside, while spending over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. These numbers are concerning and are directly correlated to the increase of mental health concerns in young students.
There are many benefits of outdoor, unstructured play for children. Unstructured time outside is said to reduce stress and is important to foster skills such as creativity, responsibility, and confidence. Outdoor play also improves physical health and overall mood. Here are several other benefits to sending your children outside for playtime.
- Playing outside promotes creativity. When children participate in unstructured play outside, they are challenged to create their own activities, use their surrounding resources, and interact socially with those around them.
- Children learn how to care for the living things in their environment. Responsibility is taught in this environment because children quickly learn that, in nature, living things do not survive if they are not tended to.
- Making choices helps children build confidence. Children have the power to make decisions about what activities they want to play and where.
- Playing outside reduces stress. Children who play outside can take a break from stressors such as homework, social media, technology, etc.
- Another benefit of outdoor play is a dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health and is absorbed from sun exposure. It is important for children to spend time in the sun, as this vitamin is not as easily absorbed in large quantities through food.
- Children thrive in open spaces. Outdoor play promotes better physical health due to the large space for children to move, play, and explore. When children play inside, they are often more restricted. Several sources suggest children need at least one hour of physical exercise a day. To create the right environment for outdoor learning, it is important to eliminate harmful tools or hazards such as chemicals. It is important to listen to your child’s feedback and interests, plan outdoor time into your busy daily schedule, and reduce barriers for outdoor play time.
You can participate in several different outdoor activities with your child. Finding a local park with a playground, taking a walk, throwing a Frisbee, swimming at the local pool, or taking a hike are all great family activities.
It is important to note that students are more willing to play and spend time outside if they have positive role models showing them the way.
Outdoor play has many great benefits. How can you begin to reduce screen time and increase unstructured outdoor play for your child?