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  • Lyndsey Ryburn, MOT, OTR/L

The Importance of Outdoor Play for Development!

It may seem simple and obvious, but what was once a regular part of a child's day seems to be getting fewer and far between--outdoor play. With new age distractions such as iPads and video games, it appears that outdoor play is becoming a less frequent choice for children these days.

While it may not be the most popular choice for play time, playing outside has many benefits for a child's development. These benefits include (but are not limited to):

  • Sensory Exploration: Being outdoors and in nature provides so many unique and beneficial sensory experiences that one would not get by sitting inside all day. Sensory input from the outdoors can include stimulation to the auditory system (listening to leaves crunching or other children playing); the visual system (sunlight, tracking birds and butterflies flying by); the olfactory system (smelling fresh cut grass or raindrops); the proprioceptive system (swinging on the monkey bars or climbing a tree); the vestibular system (swinging on a swing or hanging upside down on the jungle gym); the tactile system (touching rocks, sand, dirt, leaves to help them learn to process this input) and much more!

  • Motor Planning: Outdoor play provides new opportunities for a child to move his/her body. This challenges his/her motor planning skills and helps them learn how to move their bodies in new ways. Motor planning skills are important to establish at a young age as this can help with body and safety awareness in a child's everyday environments.

  • Problem Solving Skills: By playing in novel outdoor settings, children learn problem solving skills. They will learn how to navigate these environments to get the results that they are looking for or adapt their thinking or how their body is moving to fit the situation and desired outcome (i.e., climbing a tree while playing hide and seek or figuring out how to build a fort from sticks).

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children 3-5 be physically active throughout their day to support their overall development, and that children 6 and over have at least 60 minutes of outdoor physical activity daily!

With outdoor play having so many benefits to your child's development, it's time to encourage them to put down the iPads and screen time and get outside!


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