The Benefits of Outdoor Play for a Child’s Brain and Body
By Anne Broderius, Principal, West Elementary
Now that the weather looks like it has finally turned the corner and warmer temperatures and sunshine are on the way, it’s exciting to think about children and adults enjoying more of the outdoors once again. Play is important for a child’s healthy brain and body development and it’s through play that children engage and interact with the world around them. Children explore, take risks, experiment, develop fine and gross motor muscle memory, problem solve, discover, and use imagination all through play. Outdoor play takes children away from excessive TV and computer or video games which has become all to common a form of play. Outdoor play provides an opportunity for important physical activity and children moving their bodies in a fun way that supports many areas of development.
It’s important to encourage different kinds of play. Physical play should be encouraged with opportunities at outdoor playgrounds, lawns, and sidewalks for walking, running, climbing, skipping, rolling, jumping, and biking. These types of play help children develop gross motor skills, balance, and coordination. It’s important to encourage rolling, crawling, climbing, and swinging. Do you remember being a kid and rolling down a hill, playing on a swing set, or riding bike all day long?
Another type of play is constructive play. Constructive play allows children to be creative with all kinds of objects. See how creative children are when given some random materials like wood blocks, pvc pipe, balls, string, boxes, and canisters. Do you remember how much fun it was to play with an old cardboard box as a kid? Sometimes children have more fun with the empty box than with the item that came inside of it.
Children needs lots of opportunity for social play. Providing children a chance to play with other children similar in age is important for development. Through social play, children learn how to share, cooperate, take turns, and express emotions. It’s important an adult is close by observing and supporting the play as needed. This provides the adult a chance to intervene should children need help with a conflict. Remember to only intervene if necessary as children need opportunities to practice problem solving and resolving conflict independently too.
Games with rules are important as they help develop cognitive and social development. In addition, games with rules provide a chance to practice cooperation, negotiation, and competition. Children have fun making up the rules to familiar games or even games they create on their own. Adults should encourage, support, and have fun with whatever rules the child comes up with. Remember to balance the amount of games with rules with plenty of free or unstructured play. Follow your child’s lead on this. Some children prefer one type of play over another.
Finally, outdoor play helps to reduce the spread of infections, and improve the immune system just by being in the fresh air. Being outdoors is healthy for all of us. Research shows that exercise helps burns calories, strengthens muscles, and builds healthy bones. Being outside also provides our bodies with a natural way to build up our vitamin levels and lessens the likelihood of developing chronic diseases.
Play is an important and critical part of childhood and offers so many important developmental benefits. Play is how our children learn. Playing with our children is a great way to engage with and enjoy each of them. Children who are encouraged to play outdoors are more likely to become an adult who enjoys being active in the outdoors. Ask any adult who enjoys hiking, gardening, biking, or jogging when they got started. More than likely they will share a story about a parent or positive role model who supported, modeled, and encourage play and physical activity.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of play, please join us from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30th at the Hutchinson High School Auditorium for an adult forum from the Jeffers Foundation about Nature Play. For more information, contact West Elementary at 320-587-4470.