What’s so important about outdoor play?

This is the second guest blog post in a series written by our Outdoor Play Adviser, Michael Follett, CEO at OPAL Outdoor Play and Learning.  We are working with OPAL to develop our range of outdoor play equipment.   In this blog Michael looks at why outdoor play for children is so beneficial.

What’s so important about outdoor play?

Michael Follett BA Hons, PGCE, Director OPAL Outdoor Play and Learning

Playing outside is wonderful for children. It has been reliably proven through research that it is good for their bodies, great for their minds and fantastic for their health. The outdoors enables opportunities and experiences that are not present inside.

Children Learn Outdoors

Children Learn Outdoors

Today, most people live in cities, get around in cars, trains and buses. It is easy to forget that the huge majority of human existence has been lived on foot and without buildings. We have evolved over five million years outside. We have only moved from living mainly outside to mainly inside relatively recently during the last three or four thousand years. A typical under-five now spends less than 4% of their time outside. If human development was squashed into 24 hours, we have been living inside for the last minute.  It is not surprising then that being inside so much is not good for children and playing outside, especially in places that are natural, has so many benefits for children.

Children need space, their bodies are a work-in-progress from birth right through to when they stop growing in their teens, and these bodies need to be used in lots of ways. Running, jumping, rolling, shouting, falling, hopping, sliding, swinging, dancing and crawling are just some of the ways children explore and work their bodies. Outside gives children the space to do this and the chance to do enough of it to keep healthy and get more skilled in controlling their bodies.

Children up to the age of around seven learn most from doing. Play is nature’s way of getting children to gain a sense of fun and enjoyment from doing all of the things they need to do for healthy development. When children use their bodies and exert them, messages are sent to the brain and the body is built stronger for greater use in future; stronger bones, stronger muscles, stronger muscles, stronger hearts and stronger immune systems.

Nature's play materials are free

Nature’s play materials are free

Children are stimulated to play by things that are new and different. If you leave a room and come back to it later, it is unlikely to have changed. The outdoors is the opposite, it is never the same, always changing; light, temperature, wind, weather and seasons change; plants grow and die, animals are moving and altering the environment, the wind rearranges things, objects weather and break down, everything is in a state of change. Children’s natural curiosity is stimulated by all of these changes, they want to explore new situations and they want to be able to change things themselves.

Any parent of a two-year old will be familiar with the time their child discovers the power of NO! During their twos children start to understand that life does not just happen to them, they can have a say, they can control things and they can change things. When they understand this, they discover they can create things and being creative is one of the most important skills we have as humans. One of the great advantages of letting children play outside is that there are far more opportunities for children to be able to change and alter their environment; to mess about with materials, mix them, muddle them, build them and destroy them. We don’t want children to destroy expensive toys but stamping on a sand castle, squashing up a mud pie you have made, pushing over a cardboard box tower you built, painting black all over a painting you painted, are all safe ways to let children explore the idea of having power and control over their creativity. Nature provides materials that are free or low cost which are ideal for children to experiment with: mud, sand, shells, stones, sticks, leaves and especially water are available to all and are resources which feed imaginative minds.

Are you already playing out? Then you might want to show support for outdoor play through an organisation.  It is free to become a supporter of the charity Play England, you can take the Outdoor Play Pledge with Project Wild Thing and you can get lots of ideas from Love Outdoor Play. Nowhere to play? Join the street play revolution at Playing Out.


Author: Bob Bounce

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One Response to What’s so important about outdoor play?

  1. Emily Isaac says:

    Couldn’t agree more with this article! Outdoor play is so important and we are in danger of losing that great element of child’s play if we allow computer games and technology to replace the simple joys of running through the park or playing outside on bikes and scooters. Children should always be encouraged outdoors! Lovely read :)

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