Sports & Games

Benefits of outdoor play

Written by Varuna Shunglu
Published: December 12, 2022
Varuna Shunglu is an author, lawyer, health counselor and meditation teacher. She consults with Schools to create wellness curriculums and has worked with over 10,000+ kids in the last 8 years. Degrees : BA(Hons), LLB, Msc Yogic Science, Teacher trainer World Yoga Federation and Yoga Alliance International.

Share To

The power of outdoor play in transforming children’s health

A famous mountaineer once said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” John Muir knew what he was talking about. When parents find it exhausting to wrestle away screens and gadgets from their children, one wonders what has happened to the olden days when kids were curious enough to conjure up stories, enact adventures, chase tadpoles and climb up trees. Today we create adventures on phones and fight dragons in video games and have somewhere lost our imagination to technology, or have we not? 

Data confirming amazing benefits of outdoor play for children

Research has shown that there are numerous compelling benefits of encouraging your children to play outdoors. On speaking to 850 mothers in the US, it was analysed that their children were much less physically active compared to when their mothers were the same age. The technological distractions today and the inability to make outdoor activity fun is considered one of the primary reasons.

Indeed, to find a balance between studies, sleep, indoor entertainment and physical activity outdoors is like treading a narrow path but if we can do so, there is a world of good health, longevity, and brain-boosting effects that playing in nature can bring us. 

The benefits of playing outdoors are as follows;

1. Physical development is paramount. Playing in the open, on uneven surfaces and diving into activity can result in the activation of large muscle groups and can keep your children healthier and fitter compared to children who play indoors. 

Fitter children mean low obesity rates and your child is healthier and stronger with a balanced body mass index ( BMI). The World Health Organization asserts that a healthy weight for your child needs to be between 5-85th percentile BMI. An effective way to maintain this is a daily activity that is fun and engaging among other things.

2. Playing in the sunlight gives them a boost of Vitamin D that not only improves cognitive ability but also enhances learning capacity and energy levels. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with tiredness, fatigue and brain fuzziness that impairs clarity and memory. 

According to research, children who spent more time outside had better eyesight and could see things near them much better than those who did not play in the sun. When a 6-year-old was exposed to 40 minutes more in the sun, there were fewer chances of them developing myopia. (Goldschmidt and Jacobsen 2014.)

Popular Topics

3. Playing in nature can enhance your child’s social etiquette and develop confidence levels by children engaging in team-based activities, learning how to make decisions and developing leadership qualities.

Children can make friends who enjoy doing similar things as a means to stay active together which can leave them with friendships that last a lifetime. They learn how to manage themselves and explore unknown spaces while keeping a curious mind. 

Research in urban areas especially highlights “structured” and planned outdoor play (Pearse et al 2018) being highly effective for long-term impact on the mind-body complex in young children and well into their teens. In an experiment conducted, it was noticed that social skills were boosted with outdoor play while this was not the case with kids who played video games.

4. Engaging with Nature can improve children’s agility physically and mentally. The enhancement of athletic ability and good cardiovascular health could help them even at an older age in their lives, boost immunity and help in their overall performance in school and extracurricular activities that they decide to take up in school as they climb, jump, and swing their way into health. 

Being in tune with nature has also been shown to lower cases of behavioural challenges in children. Appreciation of nature helps them become deeper and well-rounded individuals.

5. Sleep better with outdoor play The data suggest that children sleep faster ( not longer) when they are playing outdoors. This is interesting because it backs up our common-sense assumption that when kids are tired they sleep quicker. Another important reason why we would like our kids to play outdoors more often.

6. Values imbibed through engaging with nature can make kids more sensitive to others’ needs and they are said to develop more compassion and kindness towards other beings– may it be people, birds, or animals. These children were also more likely to be environmentally conscious as well.

7. Green spaces can hasten recovery from stress while improving memory and concentration

If your child is regularly seeing green trees and open spaces they are more likely to recover from stress and fatigue, faster than others. In a research that was conducted, it was seen that children who went to play on concrete school grounds had no improvement in attention and performance while there was a significant improvement in memory and performance for the other group who went to green spaces. So just in case you’ve ever wondered why outdoor spaces made you feel so good, now you have your answer. 

Finding balance with outdoor play

The truth is that no matter how many benefits remain in favour of outdoor play, there will be more and more kids who will prefer staying indoors in the comforts of their homes and often parents do not feel at ease sending children out due to safety reasons, fear of injuries and other reasons which may all be justified. However, we can encourage our kids to find a balance. 

Supervised outdoor play, gradually increasing the intensity of their play and time duration, pairing them up as buddies with a friend to do activities, sending them for summer camps gradually, once they’re old enough and have a few years of outdoor play behind them would be some ways that outdoor life can be embraced by children.

Gradually increase in outdoor lifestyle with incentives

Children model parents and if they see you do the same, children will follow in your footsteps.

Little words of encouragement and incentives like allowing them TV time when they’ve finished a certain outdoor task or completed a workout can do wonders for their self-esteem. Small tasks completed build confidence and sets a foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

Sitting for hours on the screen or working and playing on their mobiles can leave children feeling fatigued, with neck and shoulder pain, sometimes even migraines that seem to get worse with time.

These are challenging times but we can definitely get the best of both words and in fact, have them compliment each other. Most of us workout for one hour a day and feel that we have done enough but if in fact, we can split our day up and do some activity intermittently even for 10/15 mins or so, we can have more robust health and cognition.

Whether it is an outdoor walk (helps prevent short-sightedness), walking bare feet (reduces inflammation), playing in the mud (improves gut health) or going for a swim, assimilating the texture and flavours of nature help us get more connected to ourselves. 

The great outdoors isn’t simply a sight to admire, it is an intrinsic part of our own bodies- a connection to the circadian rhythms and fresh air to harmonize our systems and reduce allergies borne by a lifestyle that is cutting us off from the very earth that we come from. 



The Power of Outdoor Play and Play in Natural Environments
Kristen M. Kemple,JiHyun Oh,Elizabeth Kenney &Tina Smith-Bonahue

An investigation of the status of outdoor play
Rhonda Clements
Contemporary issues in early childhood 5 (1), 68-80, 2004

Share To

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

All Content