As I sit at my desk and look outside on this beautiful fall day, I am thinking what a great day it would be to get outside and just play – for children and adults. I am also thinking about how recently my son has developed some strange foreign disease that seems to prevent him from seeing or touching anything even remotely considered “outdoorsy” (unless it is of course is has to do with building trees in Minecraft on his iPad)! As I work to solve this little life dilemma and get him go play outside now and back into the creek and the woods across from our house, I started considering all the positive benefits of fun outdoor activities and free play.
The Benefits of Outdoor Play
Playing outdoors is, of course, great exercise that promotes well-being and physical development. Children are naturally drawn to active outside play because it allows them to explore their environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, and gain great self-confidence. Playing outdoors also increases flexibility, improves motor skills, and helps grow a wide variety of physical skills, including those involved in sports.
Children have a great need for physical activity and they almost always love the chance to use their muscles to run, swing, jump, skate, climb, and ride a bike. They like to use their whole body when they play outdoors, and find physical activities interesting and challenging. Plus, being out in the fresh air and sunshine does wonders for their mood (think endorphins!). It also does wonders for wearing them out and getting them to go to bed earlier, a problem that is way too common in the Youngblood house!
For instance, when children are pushed in a swing, or when they propel a swing by themselves, they use many of their muscles to hold on, balance, and coordinate their body – in sync with the rhythm of moving back and forth. Also, while swinging, kids get a chance to see the world from a new perspective, literally soaring through the air. Just remember to provide comfort and security. For little ones, use a swing with a back support and a child restraint. Start out slow and push them from the front, so your face is in full view.
Toys that require balance and coordination – such as skates, scooters, and bikes – teach children new skills, encourage the development of self-confidence, and satisfy their interest in exploration. Choose sporting equipment that has “grow-with-me” features, starting at beginner and moving on up to advanced That way, children have the opportunity to master skills at their own pace. The beginner mode will give kids that extra boost of confidence they need when learning a new skill and then, as your child progresses to the advanced mode, they can practice their newly acquired skills to try new and exciting challenges. They can learn the exciting and personal growth that comes with pushing limits and reaching new goals.
Outdoor time also fuels the imagination. I remember running through the woods as a youngster creating games and scenarios that made me think and invent and dream. A tree can by a mast of a pirate ship. A cave can be an ancient setting for an archeology dig. A old wooden bridge can be the secret entrance to a magical forrest. A creek can be the only thing separating you from the “bad guys!”
The other benefit is you just never know what creature you might encounter. Just this morning, my son playing in his backyard fort and marveling at all the squirrels in the neighborhood as the “flew” through the air from tree to tree. I highly recommend staying away from the snakes and wild things but there is still something wonderful about seeing a deer or fox or wild turkey in the woods – especially for a youngster.
The great outdoors inspires all kinds of wonderful times and memories and ultimately gives a ton of great benefits both physically and mentally. That is if you can ever get them to put down the electronics and go play outside!
Which of these outdoor play activities works to get your kids outside? Let us know what some of your favorites active play ideas are and what inspires your children to “get off the couch” and go play outside now!