The Benefits of Outdoor Play

10th February, 2012 - Posted by - 2 Comments

“I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electric outlets are.”

-   A 4th Grader in San Diego, quoted in Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Many of us remember the phrase, “Go outside and play!” from childhood, but children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation (Clements, 2004; Hofferth and Curtin, 2006). Free play and discretionary time has declined more than 9 hours a week over the last 25 years. A new Nielson Company Report indicates that children ages two-five years old now spend more than 32 hours a week on average in front of a TV screen. According to the Keiser Family Foundation (2010), the amount of screen time only increases with age, with school-aged children spending 7.5 hours a day on electronic media.

The percentage of preschool children who are overweight more than tripled between 1971 and 2009, exploding from 5.8% in 1971 to 18.4% in 2009 (Odgen et al, 2007; Anderson, 2009). Six out of ten of these preschoolers will continue to be overweight or obese at age 12 (NICHD, 2006). The situation is so severe that this generation of children’s life span is predicted to be shorter than that of their parents.

Tap into the benefits of outdoor play!

Encouraging children to get outside, get moving, and connect with the natural world are all ways to reverse childhood obesity rates. But, the benefits don’t stop there.  Kids who play outside are happier, healthier, and stronger!

According to research (Fjortoft 2004; Burdette and Whitaker 2005), children who play outdoors regularly:

  • Become fitter and leaner
  • Develop stronger immune systems
  • Have more active imaginations
  • Have lower stress levels
  • Play more creatively
  • Have greater respect for themselves and others

Time spent outdoors is also the best way to get vitamin D. According to the journal Pediatrics, 70% of American kids are not getting enough vitamin D, which can lead to a host of health issues. Time spent outdoors is also shown to reduce myopia (nearsightedness) in children (Optometry and Vision Science, 2008).

Get outdoors!

Here are a few resources to help you take it outside:

No matter what you do, make sure to make time to get you and the children in your world outside!

Playfully yours, Bethe

Blogger Bio: Bethe Almeras, MS, is the HSBS Education & Outreach Director. A long time educator and play advocate, she is passionate about outdoor play and connecting children with nature. In her free time Bethe writes a blog, The Grass Stain Guru, and can often be found playing outside. She is particularly fond of squirrels. And turtles. And sandpipers. And…

Top Creative Commons License photo credit: Uli Emmanuel


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February 10th, 2012 at 8:10 pm    

The other day I was telling a friend who has two little boys about a great summer camp near us. They’ve got hiking trails, farm animals, the kids are basically outside the whole time unless sketchy weather. Friend replied, “no way am I sending my kid to that. I’ve heard that there are bugs and my kids would get bug bites” Not joking….


February 17th, 2012 at 1:12 pm    

Jo — ACK. So sad. Knowing you, you took that as a teachable moment. :-)

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