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The original post regarding outdoor play can be found on Harvard Health. This post has been slightly edited to improve readability.
There are many ways in which this generation’s childhood is different from that of the last generation. One of the most abrupt contrasts in this generation is the degree to which it is being spent indoors. There are lots of reasons children are indoors. The increase in time spent interacting with electronics, emphasis on scheduled activities, and lack of safe places are some of the reasons children are indoors. It’s not just children; adults are spending less time outdoors as well.
Here are six crucial ways outdoor play helps children:
Reason #1: Sunshine
Yes, sun exposure — especially sunburns — can increase the risk of skin cancer. But it turns out that our bodies need sun. We need sun exposure to make vitamin D, a vitamin that plays a crucial role in many body processes, from bone development to our immune system. Sun exposure also plays a role our immune system in other ways, as well as in healthy sleep — and in our mood. Our bodies work best when they get some sunshine every day.
Reason #2: Exercise
Children should be active for an hour every day. To meet this need, outdoor play is one way to be sure that happens. They can exercise indoors, but sending them outdoors — especially with something like a ball or a bike — encourages active play. Active play is the best exercise for children.
Reason #3: Executive function
These are the skills that help us plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask; they are crucial for our success. Creativity falls in here, too, and using our imagination to problem-solve and entertain ourselves. To lean and practice executive functioning skills give children unstructured time. Give children time alone and with other children, so they can make up their own games, figure things out, and amuse themselves. Being outside gives them opportunities to practice these important life skills.
Reason #4: Risk taking
Children need to take some risks. As parents, this makes us anxious; we want our children to be safe. But if we keep kids in bubbles and never let them take risks, they won’t know what they can do. And, children may not have the confidence and bravery to face life’s risks. Yes, you can break an arm from climbing a tree — and yes, you can be humiliated when you try to make a friend and get rejected. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; the lessons we learn from failure are just as important as those we learn from success.
Reason #5: Socialization
Children need to learn how to work together. They need to learn to make friends, how to share and cooperate, how to treat other people. If kids only interact in very structured settings, such as school or sports, they can’t learn everything they need to know.
Reason #6 Appreciation of nature
So much of our world is changing, and not for the better. Without digging in soil, seeing animals in their habitat, climbing a mountain, or staring at an ocean, a child may not understand what it is to be lost. The future of our planet depends on our children; they need to learn to appreciate it.
A call for action
So try it. Do what our parents did: send your children outside. Even better, go with them. And do everything you can to be sure that every child can do the same.