Why play outdoors?
It’s not a newsflash that kids LOVE to play, especially outdoors. What’s interesting is that free play isn’t all fun and games. Not engaging in enough free play with peers can have serious emotional and social repercussions for kids. Overall, kids who spend lots of time outside at play tend to grow up to be better-adjusted adults. Why?
Most parents do recognize that play is more than just…well, play. But when surveyed, Baby Boomers on average were the most aware of the cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits of outdoor play. Generation X and Millennial parents, who are more likely to have younger children, were less aware of the benefits of unstructured play.
According to Dr. Stuart Brown from the National Institute for Play, “sustained and severe play deprivation” for children can be causally linked with a greater tendency toward violence as an adult. Fortunately, Brown is talking about extreme cases. However, even lesser amounts of play deprivation can lead to difficulty for children as they grow up.
Play is a healthy and necessary way for kids to work out their emotions and deal with traumatic events. Playgrounds are also the meeting spaces of childhood, where children start to learn the nuances of social norms, develop their imaginations and meet kids from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures and ability levels. Kids – especially preschoolers – develop language skills. Strategic thinking flourishes as kids make up games. Childhood obesity and health problems decrease thanks to running, jumping and climbing, and kids burn off excess energy so they can focus on schoolwork.
With the increasing demands on kids’ time – Brown cited more homework, screen time and extracurricular activities – getting the recommended two hours of daily outdoor time can be a challenge. And that recommendation is year-round. If you consider the research, though, play definitely shouldn’t be an afterthought or a special treat. As a matter of fact, replacing extra classroom time with recess has even been shown to increase test scores. Prioritize play! It’s one of the most important building blocks for childhood success.