Tips for Parents

Outdoor Play Essentials 

By Lee A. Scott, education consultant, co-author of early learning curriculum programs such as Strive for 5! and Bound for Success, and Chair of the Goddard School Education Advisory Board

Everyone agrees that outdoor play is a natural and essential element in a child’s growth and development. The benefits go beyond supporting physical and healthy development to helping children learn skills in problem solving, creative thinking, and collaboration. Outdoor play encourages a child’s imagination and curiosity. Yet research shows that the amount of time children spend in free outdoor play has significantly decreased over the years1.  56% of the parents in the study reported that they played outdoors more than three hours per day while only 22% reported their children spend that much time outdoors. There may be several reasons for this – increasing interest in digital media, safety concerns and a decrease in recess time in schools.  What ever the factors are we need to get creative and help increase outdoor play. 

There are several benefits to outdoor play that helps prepare a child for the challenges he/she will face in school and in life. The first is in the area of sportsmanship. Children learn how to follow rules, share with others, and how to accept failure while playing in organized sports or outdoor games. These are part of what has been recently called 21st century skills. The second area is in innovation, another 21st century skill, where curious children explore their environment, collect objects of interest, and create new play environments. Another area is social-emotional development where children learn to make friends, reduce stress by being active and build confidence. All of this points to how essential outdoor play is to a child’s growth and success. 

Parents can make outdoor part of their child’s learning. Start with learning an outdoor game such as Simon Says, Hide and Go Seek, or 4 Square. These games help children learn rules and develop self-regulation but most of all they are fun. Let your child explore and get messy. Unrestricted free play is the best learning tool for all children. You can be close by but don’t try to direct the action. Go on a backyard scavenger hunt or take a walk in the neighborhood and discuss what you see. Once you get outside with your children you may never want to go back into the house. 

Educators can make outdoor play part of the curriculum and take the learning outside. Create opportunities where playing outdoors is part of the lesson instead of trying to squeeze in a limited recess time. Many schools are now building outdoor classrooms. It doesn’t need to be that formal and can be as simple as taking the art project or science lesson outside. Acting out a story and learning a strategy of a new game can all be part of the outdoor learning. The key is to make going outside a regular part of your program. 

Here is your challenge: go outside with your child for at least 15 minutes a day. You will be surprised at the impact it will make in their life.

1. An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play, RHONDA CLEMENTS, Hofstra University, 2004

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