Take Me Out to the Playground

June 15, 2021  |  Published by


Take a minute to stop and think of your favorite childhood game or pastime. What was it? More importantly, where did it take place? Was it an outdoor game? Was it jumping in mud puddles, skipping rocks in a creek, catching fireflies, running in the sprinklers, exploring in the woods, or learning to swim in the ocean? For many of us, it was.

We see children today spending more and more time exposed to screens and technology and less and less time exposed to sunshine and nature. Personally, I think that's sad.

When they shooed us out the back door, our parents may have not known all of the benefits we were getting from our outdoor play. Whether they were just trying to get us out of their hair or not, studies have shown the importance of exercise, sunlight, and exposure to nature in young children. It's simple: children reap many benefits from outdoor play that they simply do not receive from sitting inside.

Exercise

Running, climbing, crawling, jumping, rolling, squatting, hopping, throwing, and kicking... it all helps children develop their gross motor skills, build and strengthen their muscles, and develop coordination. It's been stated that children should be active for an hour every day and getting outside to play is one way to be sure that happens. 

Sunshine

Most of us are probably aware that soaking up sunshine helps children boost their vitamin D intake, which is crucial for bone building. But, did you know that sun exposure also plays a role in boosting our immune system? Getting some sunshine every day also helps children receive healthier sleep and improved moods. As a mother myself, I say YES and YES to those! Here in Arizona, we benefit from living in a state that averages 300 days a year of sunshine! Let's soak it up with our children!

Brain Building

Harvard Health Publishing states that the skills that help us plan, problem solve, be creative, negotiate, multitask, and even take risks are all brain skills that must be learned and practiced. To do this, children need unstructured time to make up games, amuse themselves, and figure things out. Outdoor play is the optimal place for this.

Exposure to Nature

When exposed to the natural world, children create their own games using their imaginations! A stick can become a sword, a flute, or a magic wand. A rock can become a planet, a pet, or a chicken nugget. Many indoor toys are what we call "single-purpose toys" and do not allow for as much creativity and imagination to occur in a child's mind. In nature, we can observe children using all of their senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

Children who spend time in nature also tend to be more alert, calm, and concentrated. It's been shown that exposure to nature decreases aggression, stress, and depression. Spending time in nature is also a source of relaxation and a great choice for leisure time.

We can also observe a deep appreciation of nature. If a child grows up without digging in the soil, playing in a stream, feeling sand between their toes, watching sunsets, going on hikes, or seeing any animals in their habitats, they may never really understand what there is to be lost. The future of our planet truly depends on our children and if they learn to appreciate it, they will learn to protect it.

So try it! Do what our parents did: send your children outside.

Even better, go with them.

Stacey Myers
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