Summer vacation in nearly here, providing a break from the schedules and commitments of the school year. You can improve your children’s chances of future health and success by making sure they have lots of opportunity to enjoy outside play. The current generation of children differs markedly from the last generation in the amount of time it spends indoors. Among other things, this is attributed to increased time interacting with electronic devices, more scheduled activities instead of unstructured outside play time, concerns about sun exposure and for some families, the lack of suitable outdoor play places. Adults, too, are spending less time outside.
Playing outside benefits children in lots of different ways: their bodies need sun to make vitamin D, which plays a crucial role in bone development, immune system function and helps with sleep. While overexposure can be dangerous, our bodies work best when we get some sunshine every day. Outside play is also typically active, which provides opportunity for children to get the hour or more of exercise they should experience daily.
The unstructured part of outside play increases executive function by helping kids learn how to plan, prioritize, negotiate and multitask. And there are the creative and problem-solving aspects of outside play, all of which are crucial skills for life success. Playing outside can involve positive risk taking too. If children never take risks by trying new things or attempting to make new friends on the playground, they won’t learn how to accept failure and learn from it. Unstructured outside play also benefits children socially by helping them learn how to make friends, share and cooperate, and treat others. And, lastly, it is important to give children an appreciation of nature. They are the future guardians of our planet, and unless they’re given the opportunity to walk in the woods, dig in the sand or play in a stream, they may not understand how important the natural world is and how our actions impact it.