9 Benefits of Outdoor Play as a Family

4 min to read
Students playing in the woods
Let’s be honest: most people spend too much time staring at a screen each day, especially kids. With the rise of technology, kids are spending more and more time inside than ever. In fact, the average American child spends over seven hours a day in front of a screen, according to the Child Mind Institute

Yet there is flourishing evidence that spending time in nature has several benefits for our physical and psychological well-being. Let’s explore some of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of getting outside with family as well as some ideas to make it happen.

Physical Benefits

1. Gets kids moving

The more time you spend outside, the more opportunities you have to move and play. Every family member can benefit from more chances to run, jump, and get their blood pumping.  

2. Increases agility, coordination, and motor skills

Engaging in physical activities outdoors, especially team sports, can help kids strengthen their bodies and grow stronger. Kids who spend time outside tend to move in ways that challenge their muscles, from walking down the street to climbing up a jungle gym. Practicing skills like kicking, catching, batting, shooting hoops are all beneficial—and can also help your child discover where their passions lie.

3. Provides a healthy dose of Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an important role in protecting your bones by helping your body absorb calcium. One of the best ways to soak up Vitamin D is through exposure to natural light. Getting families outside is especially important for growing bodies.

Two people spending time together as a family outdoors.

Mental Benefits

4. Helps promote better attention spans for kids

Kids who play outside regularly are more likely to stick with tasks longer and have better attention spans, according to several studies. These reports also show that spending time in nature promotes perseverance, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience.

5. Builds confidence

When planning an outdoor activity, give the kids an opportunity to decide what they want to do. Allowing kids to interact with nature in a way that feels good to them can help build confidence and show them how their decisions can lead to results. Plus, the more practice kids have exploring and socializing, the better.

6. Inspires creativity and imagination

With so many ways to interact with the environment, outdoor time can bring about a more unstructured style of play. From making sandcastles on the beach to discovering different types of trees on a hike, the whole family can move more freely, make up activities, and play in ways that feel new and exciting.

Emotional Benefits

7. Reduces stress and encourages calmness

While there are many factors that lead to mental illness, studies show that anxiety and depression can be linked to excess screen time in children. Unplugging from computers, phones, tablets, TVs, and other devices allows overstimulated minds to slow down and relax. Both kids and adults can benefit from time without the distractions of digital media.

8. Strengthens family bonds

Every family member needs to let loose and have fun, so why not do it together? Parents are the ultimate role models, and you can show your kids the importance of finding joy in the outdoors. Savor the moments together while reaping all the other benefits.

9. Improves mood and increases happiness

Natural, outdoor light stimulates the pineal gland, which is a part of the brain that both strengthens the immune system and helps you feel happier. Study after study shows that spending time outside and getting enough sunlight can help boost everyone’s mood.

A girl playing outside.

Ideas for Going Outdoors with Family

Spending time together as a family doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be simple and local without a lot of planning involved. Here are five fun ideas to add to your list:

1. Set up a treasure hunt

Create a list of items for your kids to look for outside. It can be as simple as “something green” or “something shiny.” Your kids will find satisfaction in finding various objects and exploring their outdoor surroundings. 

2. Go to an outdoor performance

City parks will often host concerts, plays, musicals, or other kids shows for free. Check with your local parks or community organizations for a schedule of events and take your kids on a fun outing.

3. Start a garden

Whether you plant fruits and veggies or just a few simple flowers, kids will love watching the progress from seed to bloom. This provides a great learning experience and a sense of achievement.

4. Plan a hike

Search for a nearby trail. Explore a new neighborhood. Walk through a local nature preserve or park. Hiking can happen just about anywhere. As a bonus, take turns pointing out things in nature as you go. You may even find some amazing views you didn’t realize were right in your own backyard. 

5. Take a dance break

When your kids are feeling restless or antsy, encourage a movement break. Turn up a family favorite song and head outside to groove. Even just a few minutes of fresh air and exercise can make a big difference. 

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