Toddlers need outside time to grow and explore their world. The best way to do this is in a safe environment, such as the backyard.
Toddlers are naturally curious about everything around them. They also love being free of parental supervision, so they can run wild without fear of getting hurt.
As long as you have the right set up for your toddler’s safety, they’ll be happy running and playing until it’s time for lunch!
Most parents would agree they want their kids to be physically healthy and be well-rounded, independent and compassionate individuals.
What if we told you the best way to instil these qualities in your kids was to encourage them to spend more time outside?
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By encouraging younger kids to spend more time outside and away from digital devices, you’re not only aiding your child’s physical wellbeing, but you’re helping them improve their emotional and intellectual wellbeing, too.
Whether it’s a trip to the nature-inspired park or taking a hike through the woods with their family, there’s no denying the benefits of stepping away from the screen and into the sunshine.
Why Outdoor Play Is Important
Playing outside gives your child the chance to explore the natural environment and have adventures. She can play games, test her physical limits, express herself and build her self-confidence.
Outdoor play can also mean more mess – and more mess often means more fun!
When your child is outside, he probably has more space and freedom for significant movements, like running, jumping, kicking and throwing. Physical activities like these are suitable for your child’s health, fitness and physical development.
Spending time outdoors might lower your child’s chances of developing short-sightedness. And a bit of safe play in the sun can be good, too – small amounts of sunlight exposure can help boost vitamin D levels.
Physical Development Benefits of Outdoor Play
Children who play outdoors improve their motor skills, body mass index, overall health and muscle strength.
Spending active time outdoors as a kid is also essential for life-long health. Children that are active in their early years generally continue to be more active as they age.
Encouraging outdoor play in young children helps develop a healthy attitude about maintaining an active adult lifestyle.
Improved Motor Skills
Outdoor play has also been shown to leave kids with more advanced motor skills than their “indoor” peers, including coordination, balance and agility.
Kids who play outside are more likely to enjoy activities like walking, running and biking. When children are out, they have the space to run, walk, jump, swing and throw. They can play catch. They can crawl under bushes and climb trees, and ride bikes.
By allowing kids to test and stretch their physical abilities, they strengthen their bodies and become more confident in their movements.
For kids who are athletes, extended time outdoors can also offer the opportunity and space to practice skills like batting, kicking and catching — whichever they need for the sports they’re learning.
Lower Body Mass Index
In 1980, just 7 per cent of kids were considered “obese.” Thirty years later, studies found upwards of one in three kids could be considered “obese.”
The culprit of this dramatic rise in childhood obesity is twofold—kids are eating more and spending less time being active.
Kids who spend more time playing outside are less likely to be obese because they are more active. They’re away from the television or computer screen. They’re running, jumping, climbing and generally burning more calories than their sedentary counterparts.
One study of preschool-age children showed a direct correlation between a child’s body mass index and the amount of time they are permitted to be active outside. The longer the child was allowed to play out, the lower their body mass index.
Studies have also shown kids who have close friends who also enjoy playing outdoors are more likely to spend more time outside.
Therefore, encouraging kids to choose active friends can also benefit them.
Improved Overall Health
Limiting a child’s risk of becoming obese has many long-term health implications.
Kids considered obese are at higher risk for problems like cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes and sleep apnea.
Not only that, but exposure to sunlight improves moods and strengthens immune systems.
Outdoor play has also been shown to benefit children with ADHD by giving them an outlet for the activity and energy that often creates issues indoors.
Improved Muscle Strength
Did you know when you’re pushing your child in a swing, all their muscles become engaged as they figure out how to hold on, sit up and follow the movement of the swing?
Most parents think of it as a repetitive, sometimes monotonous, playground activity that can help young children develop muscle strength.
Outdoor toys like scooters, bikes and even skateboards require your child to engage and strengthen a variety of muscle systems as well.
Social Development Benefits
While there are many physical benefits to outdoor play, it provides a massive opportunity for social development in children. Some of the most notable benefits include:
Increased Openness With Parents and Caregivers
When kids are indoors, they are often in smaller spaces and competing with other children, such as schoolmates or siblings, for attention.
It can get loud and overwhelming, which often causes kids — especially younger ones — to be intimidated and increasingly quiet.
That can prevent them from opening up and sharing with their caregivers.
When kids spend time outside, they generally feel less overwhelmed because they are not in a confined space and competing with others for attention.
This feeling of having the physical space to move and breathe often results in a child being more willing to open up and talk about things with their parent or caregiver.
Kids who play outdoors are more likely to develop more robust reasoning and observation skills.
As we mentioned earlier, a playground activity like swinging has many physical benefits for kids, but it also allows them to explore the world from a different perspective.
It shows them how to be aware of the space they’re in and understand the concept of “cause and effect” as they see what happens when a grownup pushes them.
Appreciation for the Environment
In one study, 87 per cent of individuals who spent time outside as a child carried a love of nature into their adult years.
Of those same people, 84 per cent said they still considered the environment an important priority.
The reason for this is simple: By spending a lot of time outside, children learn to appreciate the environment because they have firsthand knowledge of plants and animals.
They’ve watched squirrels chasing each other up a tree. They’ve witnessed a sunset. They’ve caught ladybugs. They’ve planted flowers, climbed trees and explored parks.
As they grow, their fond memories of their childhood experiences lead them to more awareness and compassion to preserve the spaces they loved as children because they know their value.
Improved Peer-To-Peer Relationships
Not only are kids who play outside more self-aware, but their awareness of others and their feelings increase as well.
Studies have even shown that kids who play outdoors are less likely to bully other children. Outdoor play often requires imagination and teamwork, which helps children have positive interactions with each other.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be arguments over whose turn it is to go down the slide or shoot a basket, but, in general, kids who consistently play outdoors are more likely to get along with their peers and find common ground.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that soaking up all that sunshine improves their moods as well. It’s harder to be angry at someone when you’re in a good mood!
Emotional Development Benefits
In addition to outdoor play’s physical and social benefits, children who play outside regularly also tend to be stronger emotionally and more able to process things as they grow.
Use of All Five Senses
Preschoolers who watch a lot of TVs are only using two of their senses — sight and hearing. That can limit their ability to process and respond to sensory stimuli they encounter as they grow. On the other hand, children who play outside use all their senses by exploring the outdoors — perhaps even taste, as they catch snowflakes or raindrops on their tongues.
For younger children, this familiarises them with a variety of sensory experiences, so they can process them as they continue to grow and develop.
Develop a Sense of Independence
Being outside has been shown to help children develop their sense of independence. Even though a parent is usually close by, generally, children feel a sense of freedom when they’re at the park that they don’t experience elsewhere.
They get the chance to explore and take limited risks without feeling like an adult is breathing down their neck. They can invent games with their friends, explore their boundaries and figure out what they’re capable of doing.
The confidence that results from this will help them as they continue to learn and grow.
They can try tasks and activities they wouldn’t be able to do inside and apply problem-solving strategies to questions like, “Can I climb across those monkey bars?” or “Can I reach that net if I jump high enough?”
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Intellectual Development Benefits
Many parents think the best way to develop their child’s intellectual abilities is to spend more time learning in an organised classroom environment.
But did you know encouraging your child to spend time outside is also a great way to develop their intellectual abilities? Outdoor play has the following key benefits.
Aid With Brain Development
When kids are running around outside, they are inventing games, exploring the world around them and experiencing feelings of independence.
Besides developing these feelings of autonomy, they also cultivate their organisational abilities and decision-making skills as they work individually and with their peers to create games, solve problems and implement their ideas and solutions.
As kids play, they also learn more about the importance of creating and following rules.
Improve Communication Skills
When they’re on the playground or at a park, kids have so many opportunities to meet other children and cultivate friendships with them.
They meet people who are different from what they are and develop the skills they need to play successfully with many other children.
While parents facilitate this to a degree, especially if they arrange playdates with friends to meet up in an outdoor space, playgrounds and other common outdoor spaces allow children the space they need to practice meeting and developing friendships without assistance from their parents.
Expanded Learning Space
Putting educational toys and materials outdoors gives kids a chance to learn new information and skills by playing.
It also shows kids they can learn anywhere, not just in classrooms and indoor learning spaces.
For example, as they keep score during games, they strengthen their ability to count and learn about relationships between numbers as the score increases.
Signs Your Toddler Need More Outside Playtime
There’s no doubt that exploring nature and playing outside in the sunshine with their friends, siblings, and cousins is beneficial to our little ones.
But how do you know if your child is spending enough time outdoors?
It turns out there are some signs your toddler needs to play outside more than you can look for.
They Aren’t Meeting Gross Motor Milestones.
Being cooped up in the house doesn’t exactly give kids the space they need to climb, run, jump, and explore safely.
Occupational Therapists are trained to observe and evaluate children about their developmental motor and sensory milestones. Often, we see that some children do not have the same abilities to run, jump, climb, and complete motor activities the same way their peers or siblings do.
If this sounds like your child, not to worry. You can do things to help them become more active and bring your child’s motor skills up to speed — no pun intended.
Outside play and active, physical play, in general, is often a recommendation to parents so they can help their kids improve their motor skills.
They Get Tired or Frustrated Easily
Kids love to play outside, so it’s no wonder that they can run around for hours. But if your little one may need some help with endurance, playing outdoors can help.
Some children are weak and do not have good endurance to keep up with friends, so they might be tired, get frustrated easily, and avoid certain activities.
When it comes to outdoor play, let them spend as much time as they want outside.
It’s challenging to get too much time outside — as long as they’re wearing the right clothes and are safe, keep them out as long as possible.
They Need to Improve Their Coordination
If your child has trouble with coordination, they may need some extra hours outdoors.
Some kids also struggle with coordination and the ability to complete games with accuracy or precision.
They Have a Short Attention Span
This one is tricky because kids, in general, have a short attention span. Heck, even adults struggle with their attention span.
But children who spend too much time indoors may not be challenged enough and may need other types of play.
So for some kids who may move quickly from one activity to another, or might be having meltdowns and tantrums, sometimes a break to play outside or play more actively can help them re-engage for a more extended period.
They Have Difficulty Regulating Their Emotions
We think every mom can relate to this one. Epic tantrums may be a sign your toddler needs to run off some steam and get out into the fresh air.
Outdoor play and physical play, even if it’s only for a short period of 15 to 20 minutes, not only helps kids stretch their muscles and improve their strength, but it can have an impact on their ability to self-regulate and manage their emotions.
Toddlers don’t yet have the language and cognitive development to explain their feelings and why rationally. It comes out in their actions.
Children who have been inside and need a change of scenery or more space to move may act out their frustration by throwing tantrums.
They also may try to stretch and move in spaces that are not conducive to gross motor play that can lead to injury or undesired incidents.
We have all been victim of an epic toddler tantrum, but the good news is, getting them outside may help even if it’s embarrassing when your kid decides to have one out of the house.
They Aren’t Sleeping Well or Eating Well.
Remember those days of playing outside in the sun all day and coming back into the house starving and exhausted?
When kids aren’t hungry at mealtimes or aren’t sleeping well, it could be a sign that they need to get out more.
Young children who don’t get sufficient exercise may display several behaviours, including not eating correctly at mealtimes or playing with food, being restless and not being able to concentrate, not settling at bedtime or sleeping through the night — this can lead to them being tired, which leads to them being overly prone to tantrums to tears.
Lethargic or Uninterested in Anything
Depending on the child and their mood that day, not having enough playtime outside could have the opposite effect and make them more tired.
Kids who stay indoors may become very lethargic and uninterested in anything. The fresh air of outdoor play may help get them moving and having fun.
Outdoor play has so many benefits for your kid’s health, happiness, and wellbeing, so get them and yourself outside as much as possible.
Outdoor Play for Toddlers
Toddlers are keen to explore the world around them and test out their growing physical skills. Outdoor play for your toddler might include:
- throwing and catching balls
- wheeling, pushing or pulling different toys and objects
- walking, running or jumping around trees, over stones or cracks in the footpath, into puddles or towards favourite objects
- blowing bubbles and chasing them as they float away
- playing in the sand, mud or small amounts of water – but always supervise water play to prevent drowning accidents.
Encouraging Kids to Play Outdoors
Whether your child is 2 or 12, it’s essential to encourage them to spend time away from the screen and enjoy the outdoors. We have a wide range of playpens for your baby right here at My Baby Nursery.
Exploring parks and playgrounds can be just the way to help your kids enjoy being outside, whether they’re playing alone or with their friends.