Outdoor Free Play Is Important

by | Mar 24, 2020 | Family, Mental Health, Parenting with Purpose, School, Technology

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By Dr. Kim Grengs

Time for outdoor free play is diminishing.  Children need free play outdoors to develop important social skills for life because unstructured play builds self confidence, problem solving and success in interacting with others. Outdoor free play is important for a child’s development.

Children experience freedom, gross motor movements, stronger immune system and physical activity with outdoor play.

The Three Key Factors:

  • Children learn how to socially interact through exploration with others.
  • Outdoor free play provides children with the opportunity to be more creative and rest their mind in a different way.
  • Outdoor free play provides children with the opportunity to take risks and challenges. 

The outdoor environment offers unique stimuli that capture children’s attention and interest.  Some natural items include sticks, rocks, flowers, soil and water. This peeks their curiosity. This increases a child’s imagination and creativity. Natural elements are easy to find, cheap and open ended. 

Social Interaction

One benefit is that children learn boundaries or personal limits in outside free play. These situations happen naturally. Children experience different roles. An example of this is being the teacher and/or the learner. 

Children develop empathy through these connections with other students by witnessing feelings and needs. Unstructured play opportunities give children experience and promote self-esteem, autonomy and confidence. The characteristics of the open and unpredictable enable the development of collaborative goals between children which leads to companionship among peers. 

Playing outdoors provides  children the opportunity to play with others or to play independently. This a result of more natural space to use. Free outdoor play for children helps them to learn to take turns, share and interact with other children. This playing and investing in different games, will improve their communication, cooperation and reduce stress.

Creative Free Play

You do not need to structure your child’s outside play. Simply step back and allow them time for movement and natural play. This means let them create games and different activities they will play outside with friends in the neighborhood. This is a way for them to learn how to socially interact with others.  

Free outdoor play increases their problem solving skills. Active free play increases creativity, independent thinking, confidence, emotion regulation skills, healthy sensory and immune systems so adults need to stop structuring outdoor play and let your child create their own play. Let them take the lead on their play. 

Outdoor free play is one of the most natural and powerful modes of learning for children. They can explore the world. They can pretend to be superheroes. Children can participate in investigations by choice using materials outside. 

Risks and Challenges

In outdoor play, children have the opportunity to take risks and make decisions. By taking these risks and failures children build self esteem. Outdoor free play builds self confidence. Outdoor free play is important for a child’s development.

They realize that failure is part of reaching your goal. They learn by trial and error. Without dealing with risky situations they will not know how to deal with unpredictable environments and situations. These situations will help them to overcome challenges in life. 

What is a Parent’s Role in Outdoor Play

Provide your child Opportunities to:

  • play outside and connect with nature.
  • learn to take risks and challenges
  • socialize with peers.

This will contribute to quality educational experiences, influencing children’s life to be a successful citizen.

Outdoor free play is important for a child’s development. It promotes cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being and offers the necessary conditions for children to thrive and learn. As parents it is important to reflect on how much time children spend in activities controlled by adults versus free play outside. Children are over scheduled with many pressures placed on them.  

Children may not know how to verbally express their frustration with all of the activities they are involved in. Their actions will tell you as a parent. Providing more free play outside children will be more successful in all areas. Angela J. Hanscom is a pediatric therapist who talks about the importance of outdoor play for children in her Ted Talk.  Outdoor free play builds self confidence.

Outdoor Play Ted Talk

Five benefits of children playing outside

1. Builds physically healthy children by promoting exercise.

2. Contributes to cognitive and social/emotional development.

3. Improves sensory skills

4. Increases attention skills

5. Better immunity through exposure to the sun/Vitamin D.


What questions do you have about free play outside?  Join our Facebook Group here to learn more!  Schedule a consult  with any of the parent coaches.

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