The importance of playing outdoors

How much of your child’s day is spent playing outdoors? How much time do they spend riding a bike, climbing the tree, swinging, skipping or playing hopscotch? These activities have so much value for your child’s developing body, and have a huge influence on their academics! Balance, coordination, body awareness, spatial abilities, gross motor skills, muscle tone, and so many others are developed through these activities!

While many people view these activities as simply “play” and something that is done after the work, chores, or academic games are done… they are ignoring a huge part of a child’s development. This affects whether your child is able to sit up straight at a desk for a significant period of time, and even affects spelling, reading and maths, that all require spatial abilities.

How do gross motor activities affect a child’s learning?

  • Endurance during the school day
  • Sitting up straight at the desk for longer periods of time
  • Carrying school bags
  • Affects ability to engage in fine motor skill tasks such as writing, drawing, cutting, doing academic work
  • May affect activities in the classroom where the left and right hand are required to work together
  • Left-right discrimination can affect a child’s ability go from left to right when reading.

Some ideas of activities that can develop these areas:

  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Climbing a tree
  • Swinging on a swing
  • Rope ladders or wobble bridges
  • Climbing jungle gyms
  • Riding bicycles, tricycles, scooters, and pedal cars
  • Hop scotch
  • Jumping jacks
  • Playing with balloons or blowing and catching bubbles
  • 3 legged races
  • Hula hoops
  • Balancing beams
  • Indoor obstacle course – use furniture, pillows and blankets to create areas to crawl on, under and through
  • Outdoor obstacle course – hula-hoops to jump in and out of, jumping jacks, belly crawling, bear walking and other creative movements that challenge your child to balance, crawl, jump and run
  • Simon says
  • Musical chairs/statue
  • Swimming

These are all activities children naturally are drawn to. They need to be used in a fun way. Perhaps use these activities as a way for the family to spend quality time together. Encourage a walk to the park, and racing to be the first to the slide, or create an obstacle course for the children to complete.

Don’t underestimate the value of playing outdoors and being active. A child learns through play. Our world is shifting over to emphasizing academic performance and skills. What we often forget is that these “fun” outdoor activities assist the development of skills our children desperately need in the classroom. While there is great value in educational games, and practising academic skills, we need to be encouraging our children to be playing outdoors, and developing in ALL areas.