12 benefits of outdoor play (and tips to help your child get them)
What are the benefits of outdoor play for a child’s development?
Research tells us there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on what kids actually do when they’re outside. It also depends on where kids play. But overall, children can reap many benefits when they play outdoors, including
- a reduced risk of myopia, or nearsightedness;
- greater exposure to bright light, which enhances health and mental performance;
- increased activity levels, and greater freedom to run, jump, and climb;
- opportunities for hands-on learning about physical forces and concepts;
- reduced stress levels, better moods, and improved concentration;
- more naturally-attuned sleep rhythms; and
- enhanced opportunities to learn social skills, overcome fears, and develop a lifelong connection with nature.
In addition, it’s possible that outdoor play could help reduce the incidence of behavior problems, and help fight obesity.
Here is a more detailed look at the benefits of playing outside — and the conditions that make certain kinds of play so helpful.
12 benefits of outdoor play
1. Outdoor play can reduce a child’s risk becoming nearsighted.
Heredity plays a big role in whether or not a child develops myopia, or nearsightedness. But it’s also clear that time spent outdoors is protective.
Scores of studies show links between outdoor time and the development of myopia. Kids who spend more time outside are less likely to become nearsighted (Goldschmidt and Jacobsen 2014, Rose et al 2016).
And experiments confirm that we can prevent or delay nearsightedness by “prescribing” more outdoor play. For example, in one randomized study, 6-year-olds assigned to get an extra 40 minutes of outdoor time each day were less likely to develop myopia over the following three years (He et al 2015).
Why does it help to go outside?
Researchers aren’t yet sure.
One possibility is that it provides the eyes with a break from “close work,” like reading. Lots of close work increases a child’s chances of becoming nearsighted.
Another possibility is the eyes benefit from exposure to bright daylight. But either way, it looks like outdoor play is a good prescription for reducing the risk of myopia.