In the good old days, playing with friends meant biking through the neighborhood, playing basketball in the driveway and climbing up jungle gyms at the local park. Childhood play was often outdoors, simple and fun — and never included handheld devices. But beyond the simplicity, it was also playing a large role in personal development.
The amount of time children spend playing is declining. Some children may be more interested in video games or watching TV than playing a game of kickball in the cul-de-sac. In fact, research shows preschoolers watch an average of 4.5 hours of TV a day and are missing out on important health benefits and developmental factors of unstructured play.
Here are five ways playing outside may benefit your kids:
- Gets their bodies moving
While this one is pretty obvious, allowing your child to be active is important. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest an hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day for kids ages 6 to 17. Sticking to regular physical activity promotes a overall health by strengthening bones and muscles, lowering body fat and reducing the risk for obesity. It also has positive effects on children’s brains, with improved cognition and reduced symptoms of depression.
- More vitamin D
A recent study shows that young people aren’t getting sufficient levels of vitamin D. Sun exposure causes children’s bodies to produce vitamin D, which is important for bone development and their immune systems because it helps the body absorb and retain bone-building calcium and phosphorus.
- Develops critical mental skills
Unstructured play allows for children’s minds to be creative and develop skills that help them plan, juggle tasks and problem-solve. Making up games to play with their friends or finding ways to use their imagination outside allows them to learn and practice these skills.
- Allows them to socialize and collaborate
Unstructured play allows for children to learn how to collaborate with others. They learn to listen to directions and solve disagreements with their words without the constant supervision of their parents or teachers.
- Reduces stress
Spending time in nature may be restorative for children because green space is shown to provide mental health benefits. The fresh air and greenery have a natural calming effect on the body, which may reduce stress and anxiety and in the long-term lower the risk for psychiatric disorders to develop.
So this summer, turn off the TV and bring your kids outside to enjoy some unstructured play in nature. Feel free to join in, because you may reap these health benefits, too.