Children in past generations often heard the phrase, "Go play outside." Their parents and caretakers knew that youngsters could burn off excess energy and improve strength and coordination when they enjoyed the outdoors. But the attraction of video and computer games, along with the highly regimented lives that many modern children lead, means they sometimes don't spend enough time exploring nature. However, playing outside is important for the proper development of several aspects of a child's life.
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Young children can exercise their large muscle groups much more vigorously when they play outside rather than inside. Activities such as running, skipping, climbing, swinging, jumping and pedalling all require a large area and are important for developing gross-motor skills. Active outdoor play also burns more calories than typical indoor pursuits, and may help a child maintain a healthy weight. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children who participate in vigorous activity every day will have improved muscular fitness, better bone health, a favourable body composition and improved cardio-respiratory endurance.
Early Childhood News, a publication for parents and teachers, states that children who play outside often invent their own games, which exercises their problem-solving skills. When they make up rules for games and practice them with their friends, children develop organizational abilities and leadership qualities. Their creativity is enhanced and their imaginations are nourished.
Young children learn best when all of their senses are involved. They can accomplish this much more easily by participating in outdoor activities where sights, sounds, smells and textures are rich and varied. Penn State University's Better Kid Care Program says that time spent learning in the outdoors may provide the best method for children to gain an understanding of their world. Furthermore, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a child's perceptual skills may suffer if much of his learning depends on computers, video, television or other media. All of these learning methods require only two senses, but active participation of the whole body is a powerful learning aid.
Being outside promotes cooperative play, which leads to the development of social skills. Waiting for a turn to go down a slide, participating in team sports, and working with others to build a sand castle are all examples of ways children can enhance their social abilities outdoors. Learning how to resolve inevitable playground conflicts is a valuable skill as well. Scholastic's Parent and Child Magazine says children who practice sharing equipment, including others children in their games, and similar conflict resolution methods are learning interpersonal lessons that will last them a lifetime.
Appreciation for Nature
Children develop an aesthetic awareness by being outdoors, states Early Childhood News. They learn to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of the world around them. A child can satisfy her curiosity about plants and animals by observing them in their natural habitats. This environmental awareness provides the foundation for a lifestyle that is focused on the conservation of resources and a respect for nature.
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- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- Early Childhood News: Take it Outside
- Penn State Better Kid Care Program: Outdoor Play
- National Assn. for the Education of Young Children: The Value of School Recess and Outdoor Play
- Scholastic: Why Play Outdoors?