By Suzanne Lopez /
With the springtime upon us, it’s easy to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine! In Michigan, most everyone has cabin fever by this time of year, and welcome the warmer and longer days. It’s a reminder for us to send the kids outside to play, (just like we did when we were kids). Studies have shown children today spend less time outside than the older generations. The outdoors has to compete with TV and video games, unlike years ago.
Restoring active, unstructured play in our children’s lives is critical, not only for their health, but their development as well. Free play has the potential to improve emotional well-being in addition to physical benefits. Studies show that older children and adults benefit from outdoor activity by improving mood and minimizing anxiety, depression, aggression and sleep problems. Though there have not been direct studies done with pre-school age children, we assume these benefits generalize to younger children as well (Burdette et al., 2005).
According to the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play (2008), children who play outdoors regularly benefit the following ways: become fitter/leaner, develop stronger immunity, increase their levels of imaginative play, lower their stress levels, and develop gross motor skills. Studies done by Christian et al., (2008), showed that outdoor play encouraged social interaction, creativity, problem solving, learning about their environment, improved their spatial and way-finding abilities, and helped develop social relationships.
Interestingly, the authors of that same study also showed that dog ownership is positively associated with children’s levels of physical activity. The act of walking their dog increased their outdoor time, which generalized to playing in their yard/neighborhood and increased their levels of community activity. Children who had a family dog walked on average 30 minutes more per week and were 50% more likely to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.
Hopefully, this information encourages all of us to increase our levels of outdoor time and play and recognize the myriad of benefits. So, go ahead and send the kids outside to play! And maybe get them that puppy they’ve been asking for, too!
Burdette, MD, H.L., Whitaker, MD, MPH, R.C. (2005). Resurrecting free play in young children: Looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 159, 46-50.
Christian, H., Trapp, G., Villanueva, K., Zubrick, S.R., Koekemoer, R., & Giles-Corti, B. (2014). Dog walking is associated with more outdoor play and independent mobility for children. Preventative Medicine, 67, 259-263.
Outdoor Play Benefits. Head Start Body Start. National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play. n.d. English.
Suzanne Lopez is a Lenawee’s CHILD parent educator in the Britton Deerfield School District along with being the School Success Coach for “At-Risk” students in grades K-4. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Behavior Analysis and has recently been admitted to Purdue University to obtain her Master of Science degree in Special Education. When she is not working, she is home with her own children (ages 3-13).by