Child Development & Outside Play

“Go outside and play!” Decades ago, this was a standard directive in most households -- and one that children welcomed with fervor. Today, lured by the glow of video games, cell phones, tablets and other electronics, many children prefer plopping down on the couch after school to engaging in a rousing game of neighborhood kickball. Still, while the nature of childhood may have changed, outside play continues to perform an essential role in a child’s development.

Emotional Well-Being

Playing outside and connecting to nature can help a child’s development in a number of ways. According to a report issued by the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) “Be Out There” campaign, outside play protects child’s emotional development by reducing stress and anxiety 1. The report points to an "American Journal of Public Health" study that indicated that a child’s stress level decreases significantly within minutes of “seeing green spaces.”

Creativity and Focus

Whether it’s building a snow fort, creating an obstacle course or making up a new game that’s a cross between basketball and tag, outside play can foster and promote a child’s creativity and focus. According to the NWF report, nearly 80 percent of teachers feel that when students are able to spend time outdoors, they have better concentration, problem-solving skills and creativity. Moreover, students who regularly play outdoors have better test scores and academic performance than students who don’t.

Physical Strength

Monkey bars, a pick-up baseball game or a neighborhood bike ride: Outside play is not only fun for kids, but it also builds their physical strength and helps to prevent obesity. According to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, children -- and adults, too -- should engage in at least one hour of physical activity a day. And, of course, with all of the running, jumping and climbing that encompasses outside play, children don’t even realize they’re exercising: they’re just having fun.

Overall Health

According to the NWF report, not only does outdoor play help children build muscles, but it also exposes them to Vitamin D -- an essential vitamin that is produced in the skin from sunlight exposure that can help prevent bone and cardiovascular problems and other health issues such as diabetes. The NWF report also cites research that proves that playing outside can reduce a child’s risk of developing myopia, or near-sightedness, by two-thirds. In addition, a 2004 study published in the "American Journal of Public Health" found that outside play can significantly reduce a child’s ADHD symptoms, which can be crucial for children who have trouble tolerating medications or for whom medication is ineffective.