The Importance of Outdoor Play for Children

Have you ever sat at a park or nature reserve and watched children play? I mean really watched them, not just the occasional mandatory glances to make sure they are ok? Children, like other animals, learn through playing. If you watch a nature documentary that follows young animals around in the wild you’ll see that they too, just like children, will play as soon as they can move.

Albert Einstein said it best: “Play is the highest form of research”.

What may look like innocent and fun little games played by the leopard (or any other animal) are actually the animal honing its skills for a very important job; life. Children’s games and activities serve the exact same purpose. Play time is equipping children with skills they undoubtedly will need in the future. That’s why play comes so naturally to children, it’s innate in humans.

However, not all play is created equal.

Indoor play is a good idea but the skills and development kids can achieve indoors is greatly limited compared with both structured and unstructured play outdoors in nature.

The main reason being, indoor play doesn’t have varying conditions and situations. When humans are faced with varying situations, environments and conditions we learn best; we adapt. The same goes for children. The child who plays outside on the uneven and always varied surfaces (natural and unnatural) will learn better co-ordination and balance then a child who is always playing indoors and has no exposure to different weather conditions, heights, surfaces etc.

The child who is allowed to climb objects such as playground equipment and trees will grasp a better understanding of risk and risk assessment as well as climbing abilities compared with the child who is constantly told not to climb on things because it’s dangerous or only has limited indoor heights to play on.

Even falling onto different surfaces, including hard (rocks, dirt, bitumen) and soft (grass, sand), goes a long way in allowing children to learn to fall correctly and minimise injury. These opportunities for children to learn and adapt are available and easily accessible in the outside world.

Other skills which they can learn more effectively outdoors include throwing and catching, jumping, crawling, swinging and running. The outdoors is also a great place for them to learn problem-solving, communication with other children as well as a deeper appreciation and respect for nature and the environment.

Quite often the biggest challenge in allowing children to explore and play in the outside world comes from the parents. If this is you, I encourage you to look into ways of overcoming this fear so your children can get the best start in life.


Written by Clint, Primal Influence

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