Doctor’s orders.  Play outside, young man!  

When I took my son to the doctor to take care of the lovely impetigo that was taking over his face, the doctor made some recommendations.  

  1.  Wear wrist guards when skateboarding.  
  2. Put on sunscreen.  
  3. Play outside.  

My son looked up at him, big brown eyes soaking in every word.  From the doctor’s mouth.  

Play outside.

My son nodded enthusiastically, knowing that he’s got it down pat.  We take pride in taking care of our little piece of mother earth and know that there is endless fun outside.  Outside. Outdoors. Fresh air. Breathe it in.  

But why is it good?  The doc didn’t get that far, he just told us we need the fresh air play time.  

Here are 5 reasons to increase the amount of time our kids (and WE) play outside.  Some are experience based and others research based.  

  1.  Mental health.  According to a study conducted on Canadian adolescents, “exposure to nature can be protective to the mental health of children.”  Check out of the study here. The University of Essex conducted a series of ten studies around the issue and found that “green exercise was associated with statistically significant improvements in self-esteem and mode.”  More can be read from those studies here. We really don’t need the studies to prove it.  Have you ever taken a clump of small children to the park down the street but first struggled to get out the door?  Find that missing shoe, turn around for a 3rd bathroom stop, realize that everyone is all of a sudden hungry and lose the pet lizard in the process.  Basically, chaos can happen easily and quickly. But once you step outside, notice the immediate change in composure. It becomes easier to breathe, easier to relax, and easier to reframe our minds.  Am I right? This is my experience.  
  2. Imagination.  We have all experienced it at least once.  We buy the expensive Christmas present, and the box is the hit.  It happens. But why is this? Kids are built for imaginative play.  They are wired to be creative, to push the boundaries, and to play outside the constraints of a pre determined way to play.  There is only so much that can be done with a Paw Patrol figure in a Paw Patrol car. But there is endless potential in the box it came in.  Let’s take that outside. Moss, tall grass, sticks, trees, rocks and dirt can be combined in infinite ways for never ending exploration and learning.  Let the kids get dirty. Push them past that “I’m bored” stage until they find that joy. A new world will open and they will settle in to the comfort that they are made for it.  
  3. Improves sleep.  We all want our kids to sleep better and we also usually want them to sleep longer.  According to a study cited on Today’s Parent, “kids who had more outdoor playtime were less likely to wake at night. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate sleep patterns, and physical activity helps children fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.”  Check out the full article here. This just makes sense.  Have you ever sat around all day on the computer, phone, or just lounging and then felt ready for a good night’s sleep?  It is less likely than the times you were outside being active and enjoying the sunshine. Let your kids have that same experience and you will all reap the benefits of a better night’s sleep.
  4. Improves academic performance.  In the same article on Today’s Parent, we learn that outdoor play improves cognitive learning.  “Physical activity is beneficial to cognition and doesn’t negatively affect academic performance but, in fact, enhances it.”  Let’s advocate for longer recesses and more unstructured playtime at school and give it to the kids after school!
  5. Physical health.  Although this one may seem obvious, it is absolutely worth mentioning.  Countless studies prove the physical benefits of outdoor play. Kids are more likely to run and climb, bounce and skip, when they are outside and away from the screens.  We all want our kids to be strong and healthy, and facilitating outdoor play is a great way to do this.

There are so many ways to help get our kids outside.  Every city has green spaces and parks that are prime places to take your kids.  It doesn’t take a state of the art play structure to reap the benefits.  

Find a stream, a tree, an open field or a pile of dirt and let them loose.