Between school-work and the increasingly popular video games and tablet-use, children seem to be spending more and more time indoors. This trend has prompted a number of studies which have been published highlighting the negative impact the lack of outdoor activity is having on children’s development and health.
But what are the real benefits of outdoor play for children? Here are ten unexpected reasons outdoor play benefits your child’s well-being
1. Outdoor Play boosts academic performance
Outdoor free play cultivates curiosity and wonderment. Moreover, it increases kids’ ability to engage in the arts, science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. In a 2010 National Wildlife Federation report, 78 percent of teachers said they believe that children who spend regular time in unstructured outdoor play have more concentration and perform better in the classroom—and that outdoor time leads to higher standardized test scores.
Outdoor play is great for encouraging children’s creativity. Away from the constraints and confinement of indoor play, being outside children’s imaginations are often stimulated by the objects around them and they quickly tap into their creativity.
There are numerous health benefits to playing outside. With more room to play in, children are often more active when outside, which helps them to build strong bones and good fitness levels, while also enabling them to burn off extra energy and calories. As well as this, being in the sunshine, even in winter, means children naturally absorb vital vitamin D.
4. Social skills
As outdoor spaces are usually less crowded than indoors, it is less intimidating and helps children to naturally come out of their shells and be more social. This means that children will be more willing to join in games and activities, while they will also be more likely to talk to different children and make new friends. This all encourages children to learn social skills and how to interact with other children away from adult supervision.
Giving children the freedom of playing outdoor helps them to feel happier and calmer. Also Vitamin D is proven to help improve moods and create a positive mental attitude. The freedom outdoor play also encourages children to get rid of built up energy, particularly if they tend to be fidgety when sitting for long periods of time, this leads to them becoming calmer and ultimately helps them to be more focused when in the classroom.
The large space in which to play means that when outside children are often away from direct adult supervision. This helps them to learn independence when socially interacting with other children, as well as learning to play by themselves. They learn how to take turns playing games, to pick themselves up then they fall, and how to negotiate unfamiliar equipment, resulting in children learning how to be independent and self-reliant.
Often outdoor play equipment has a little more risk than indoor toys. Whether it is encouraging children to use slides they might be a little afraid to go down, or to try challenging play trails; outdoor play equipment can help children to learn to push their boundaries and become good at risk assessment. It also teaches them to explore new games and become confident in learning to try new things without being guided by adults.
8. Improves sleep
Longer screen time is greatly associated with shorter nocturnal sleep duration among two- to five-year-olds. Reports found late bedtimes and poor quality of sleep lead to hyperactivity, depression and obesity, as well as stunted physical growth and lower IQ scores. But there’s a simple fix: That same study found that kids who had more outdoor playtime were less likely to wake at night. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate sleep patterns, and physical activity helps children fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.
9. Increases happiness
In 2012, the Fundy region of Nova Scotia launched a project which involved expanding outdoor time at child-care centres and mentoring staff on how to make the most of that time. It produced many unexpected benefits, including, as one daycare staff member noted, happier children and happier educators. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress and anxiety, and may even contribute to depression for many children. If we give our kids time and freedom outdoors, say the experts, we’ll see a dramatic shift in their stress levels, self-esteem, self-regulation and overall happiness.
10. Reduces ADHD symptoms
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) find it hard to focus, concentrate and sit still in class, and have difficulties self-regulating and controlling impulses outside school as well. In 2001, University of Illinois researchers Frances Kuo, William C. Sullivan and Andrea Faber Taylor surveyed 96 Midwestern families who had children with ADHD and came to a surprising conclusion: “Results indicate children function better than usual after activities in green settings and that the ‘greener’ a child’s play area, the less severe his or her attention deficit symptoms.” Then, in 2008, they looked at attentional fatigue by comparing attention spans after a walk in a park, neighborhood or downtown setting. The positive effects of the park outweighed the others and were often as effective as a dose of Ritalin. While there is hope that “green” therapy could replace the need for ADHD medication altogether, the researchers have already concluded that park time could benefit kids by at least reducing their doses, allowing them to recover their appetites in time for dinner and get a good night’s sleep.
When trying to cope with everything, work, the house, the kids, it can be really hard to make time for outdoor play. However even small doses such as an hour at the playground after school or a picnic in the afternoon could benefit children’s well-being in a substantial way.
There are many spots where children could run around and explore their surroundings in Malta & Gozo. Click here for inspiration.