Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids

This post may contain Amazon or other affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Have you heard that spending time outside is good for kids, but wondered what are the real benefits of outdoor play for kids?

Is it really worth the struggle getting your kids dressed in raincoats or snow pants to get them outside?

I totally understand that sometimes it seems like you spend more time prepping to go outside than you actually spend outside.

But there are SO many physical, mental, and emotional benefits when they get outside more often.

I listed many of these benefits in my 1000 Hours Outside Challenge post, but I wanted to take a closer look at some of the benefits I listed.

So keep in mind that this list is NOT exhaustive!

Now let’s take a closer look at what I think are the TOP 10 benefits of outdoor play for kids!

Benefit #1: Breathing Cleaner Air

Did you know that the air in your home, and other buildings such as offices and schools, is more polluted than outdoor air??

It’s true!

The EPA states that indoor air has 2-5 times higher levels of common organic pollutants than outdoor air!

When you consider how much time kids spend inside versus outside, this is a huge concern for their overall health!

Sure, you can buy air purifiers (we have one of these in every bedroom and in the office in our house), but nothing can replace getting outside for tree cleaned air!

Now, if your family is like ours, then you might battle seasonal allergies.

While we are working on reducing our histamine load and therefore our body’s response to allergens through diet changes and supplements, allergies can make being outside certain times of the year miserable.

I have personally found that cutting sugar and reducing carbs in my diet has helped reduce my seasonal allergies.

You can find more strategies in this article by Wellness Mama to help reduce your seasonal allergies so you can get outside more!

And when our allergies are bad, we use a homeopathic tablet called AllergyCalm by Boiron to relieve our symptoms!

But in my mind, one of the top benefits of outdoor play is providing my kids with cleaner breathing air!

child smelling flower in field
Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

Benefit #2: Increased Vitamin D

One of the other top benefits to outdoor play is more sunshine which means more vitamin D!

This probably isn’t news to you, but having your skin exposed to sunshine increases our body’s production of vitamin D.

This is a CRITICAL vitamin for our immune system and helps prevent a host of diseases and other health issues.

Keep in mind that sunscreen is going to block vitamin D production, so it’s important to get exposure in the sun WITHOUT sunscreen (and yes for our kids too!).

For starters, try eating your sunscreen instead of wearing it!

The way to eat your sunscreen is to reduce inflammatory foods and to increase foods that are high in nutrients that naturally help protect your skin!

You can also try sun cycling if you or your kids get sunburns easily.

This is where you have them play in the sun for 10 minutes and then take a 10-20 minute break in the shade and then repeat.

This allows the body to get short doses of sun for vitamin D production, and if done correctly, your chance of getting burned is greatly reduced.

And don’t forget to get outside in the spring when UV rays are less harsh to start working on building up your body’s tolerance to being in the sun.

And of course, if you have to be in the high summer sun for an extended period of time, then protection is necessary!

Our family chooses to use UV protective clothing from Tuga!

child sitting in field with sunlight shining on her
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Benefit #3: Better Sleep (and what parent doesn’t want that?!)

This 2021 study looked at over 500,000 people in the UK and found that increased time outside in daylight was associated with greater ease in getting up, less tiredness, and fewer insomnia symptoms.

Modern living, which relies heavily on indoor lighting and tech devices, is stealing our body’s natural sleeping rhythm or our circadian rhythm.

Time in daylight has been shown many times over to improve our natural circadian rhythms.

In fact, it is said that just one week of camping outside can reset your circadian rhythm and increase your sleep.

You see, getting away from all the artificial light and letting the sun “speak” to our body improves our body’s ability to rest as it should!

This is why getting our kids unplugged from tech devices and outside is going to improve their ability to sleep at night – their ability to fall asleep earlier, sleep longer, and wake up more rested!

girl sleeping in bed
Photo by Richard Stachmann on Unsplash

Benefit #4: Improved Eyesight

Did you know that kids who spend more time outside suffer less from nearsightedness?

A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Optometry found that the risk of myopia is reduced by about two thirds when a child’s outdoor time exceeds 14 hours a week.

And that’s in kids that have two nearsighted parents!

The reduction could be related to increased sunlight and that being outside requires focusing on objects that are further away.

Who knew one of the benefits to outdoor play would be improved eyesight for our kids?!

close up photo of boys face
Photo by Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash

Benefit #5: Enhanced Strength, Coordination, Balance, and Agility

As your kids chase each other playing tag, walk across unstable ground and across rocks on hikes, as well as climb trees or playground equipment, all these activities improve their strength, coordination, balance, and physical agility!

There are so many more opportunities to put your child’s physical limits to the test when they are outdoors as compared to what they can do inside!

How high can I make my swing go?

How fast can I sprint away from my chaser?

Who can jump the furthest?

How many times can I jump rope without missing?

Can I make it across this creek without getting wet?

How high can I climb up this tree?

All of these are physical challenges to test a child’s physical abilities and push their limits.

boy flexing his muscles outside to show that a benefit of outdoor play is increased strength
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Benefit #6: Increased Creativity and Imagination

I love the creativity and imaginative play that the outdoors brings out in my kids!

Suddenly, instead of lots of play food, we are making pretend stew out of leaves and dandelions that we have foraged.

Instead of board games, we are making up games and competitions, racing around the yard.

Sticks can become pretend swords, telescopes, bats, golf clubs, or a pretend fire to cook that foraged stew over.

Sand can be made into castles and moats or used to bury pirates treasure!

Chalk in the hands of kids can become a masterpiece, a race course, or a chance to practice writing their letters and numbers.

Outdoor play benefits the imagination and helps a child’s creativity grow!

child playing in sand
Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

Benefit #7: Resilience

Do you wish your child had more resilience to life’s challenges?

Did you know that resilience is something that we should teach and that it is not automatic?

One of the benefits to outdoor play is the chance to teach your children resilience!

When kids go out to play in cold, snowy weather or wet, dreary weather, kids learn to become resilient to different situations that life throws at them.

That cold, snowy weather gives us the chance to sled, build snowmen, or have a snowball fight.

The wet, dreary, rainy day gives kids the chance to stomp in puddles, watch water flow down the side of the street, and teach them to enjoy the sound of rain.

Of course safety first – if thunder roars, go indoors!!

But allowing our kids to be a little uncomfortable and learn to play in different environments is an important life skill.

Learning that fun can be found outside even when it isn’t perfect weather is important.

Handling different weather situations can give kids resilience to overcome obstacles in their life.

When we make the most of the bad weather and teach our kids to have fun even in poor weather, our kids are learning to take a bad situation and make the most of it!

Our kids are learning they can make the most of every opportunity!

child playing in rainy weather
Photo by Andre Taissin on Unsplash

Benefit #8: Responsibility

If you work with your kids to grow flowers or a garden, they can learn big lessons in responsibility!

This past year, I let my daughter pick out two packets of seeds – one flower pack and one vegetable.

She learned that without proper care, things don’t grow like they should!

You can also teach kids how to be responsible to the environment.

We teach this when we pick up trash blowing in the yard or caught in the creek.

Or when we emphasize composting, instead of throwing everything in the trash

And of course we need to teach kids how to be responsible when being active outside.

This could look like teaching the importance of helmets when riding a bike or scooter.

Or teaching our kids to check for traffic when crossing the street.

Outdoor play provides a variety of opportunities for kids to practice the skill of responsibility!

child watering garden as a benefit of outdoor play is learning about responsibility
Photo by Filip Urban on Unsplash

Benefit #9: Better Mental Health (and Increased Longevity!)

A 2016 study followed over 108,000 women and found that exposure to green, natural environments helped improve mental health.

While this study was conducted solely on women, it’s not hard to see that this would apply to everyone!

This study also showed that being exposed to natural environments increased life span for the participants.

I don’t know about you, but I want that for my children!!

Another 2019 study of 900,000 people showed that children with low exposure to green spaces growing up were more likely to develop psychiatric disorders.

An increase in green space leads to a decrease in depression and risk of schizophrenia.

Our culture is seeing an increase in mental health issues and an increase in drugs prescribed for mental health problems.

Increasing the time our children spend in green spaces can help decrease this risk for them!

child with big smiling standing outside since a benefit of outdoor play is a better mood
Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Benefit #10: Lower Stress

This 2010 study compared health metrics of groups of people sent into a city versus into a forest.

The study found that those who spent time hiking or being in the forest had lower cortisol or stress levels!

Cortisol is important for the body, but not when we are experiencing chronic high levels of it.

A few of the negative health effects of stress include: weakened immune system, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, stomachaches, and more!

So it’s no surprise that some of the other benefits found in the 2010 study included lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.

Activating your kiddos parasympathetic nervous system is a great way to help kids regulate their emotions.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is the regulating nervous system.

It helps relax the body!

On the other hand, the sympathetic nervous system puts the body on alert when there is danger.

But when it is active for too long, things can get out of control.

Too often in our high tech world today, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged too much!

So helping the parasympathetic take control is vital for kids that have a hard time regulating their emotions.

girl hiking through woods with her family
Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids

I hope you can see that there are so many tangible benefits to outdoor play for kids (and adults!).

Research is continuing to show how important time outside is for our bodies!

And while I didn’t cover EVERY benefit to outdoor play for kids, these are my top 10 (well, really 11) reasons for getting my kids outside whenever I can!

Just this morning we slipped on rain boots and grabbed umbrellas and spent a half hour walking in the rain and stomping in puddles!

My goal is a little time outside every day!

If you are interested in getting outside more, jump over to my post about the 1000 hours outside challenge.

In that post, you can download FREE 100 hour tracker sheets to start your journey of getting more time outside!

So grab a hat, an umbrella, or snow boots and head outside to start reaping these benefits today!!

10 benefits to outdoor play pin

1 comment
  1. Tabatha
    July 22, 2023 at 4:30 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! Outdoor play is so important for our children (and us!). Thank you for sharing all of these benefits!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *