The Importance of Outdoor Play

Most children don’t have to be told to play outside, or shown how to do so. But the reality is that as our communities become more urban in nature, children in cities spend a lot less time outdoors than their rural counterparts. When you add in the fact that Latino children have the highest obesity rate in the country, due in part to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles, then the importance of playing outside becomes obvious.

So how can we encourage our kids to spend more time playing outside? Part of the key is to start when they are young to help them develop a love of the outdoors. Give them simple materials like chalk, nets, hand shovels, and sporting equipment like soccer balls, frisbees, jump ropes, and kites. Both young and older children generally enjoy setting up a nature table at home. Big or little, fancy or simple, your nature table will be extra special if you set it up together as a family. Then you can ask your children to find special items outside to add to it. Encourage them to look for unusual items like bird nests, seeds, shells, leaves and more.

Look for outdoor games like horseshoes, badminton, bocce, ring toss, skeeball, bean bag toss, bowling and golf. Many of these games go on sale at local stores at the end of summer, so now is a great time to stock up!

Also, playing outside does more than just keep your kids physically healthy. Research shows that playing outside has a profound effect on a child’s motor coordination, imagination, ability to concentrate, observation skills, and can even improve academic performance. In fact, I know for a fact that after my kids have spent time outdoors playing and using up some of their excess energy, they are much more focused and ready to do school work. So after your child arrives home from school, why not send them out in the backyard for an hour before they start their homework? It will give them time to relax and renew their body so that their brains can make the connections more easily when doing their homework.

The National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their children a GREEN HOUR every day. Quite simply, a “Green Hour” is defined as 50 minutes of unstructured playtime and interaction with the natural world. You can find dozens of Green Hour outdoor activities on their website. And educators can also find tools for using the outdoors to supplement their lessons.

To look up the location of a park near you, check out KaBoom’s Map of Play.  If you can’t find one near you, or if the park in your neighborhood is in bad shape and not very safe for children, then learn about KaBoom’s grant program which helps communities improve their local playgrounds.

 

Creative commons-licensed photo provided by originallittlehellraiser.

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