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What are the Benefits of Outdoor Games for Kids?

While kids love playing games both indoors and out, there are so many benefits of outdoor games that they should often be encouraged to play games in the fresh, open air.

Here are just a few of the benefits:

Gross Motor

The main and most obvious benefit of playing outside is that children build their gross motor skills – the large muscles of the body.

During games, children are building strength, flexibility and agility.

They are learning to cross the midline.

While playing various games like chasing games, they are developing body awareness and position in space (proprioception).

They are also building balance, direction and a sense of movement (vestibular system) – highlighting the importance of outdoor play for a child’s sensory development

Movement activities are essential to learning. During games, kids are usually actively involved and moving a lot.

Children playing with hula hoops. Text reads "9 amazing things kids learn from outdoor games".

Cognitive Skills

While movement directly develops a child’s gross and fine motor skills, there is research that also links outdoor play and brain development. 

Children receive the cognitive benefits of outdoor play as they coordinate their body movements and brain synapses. Movement builds new pathways in the brain. [source]

Social Development

By their very nature, games are usually played by two or more people. This makes social development one of the benefits of playing fun games.

During games, children learn skills such as:

  • Taking turns
  • Cooperating with others
  • Considering others’ needs
  • Working together
  • Being on a team

Games are fun, which makes the experience of playing with others a positive one. Children learn that playing with other children is a joyful experience.

Games may also foster new friendships as kids often play closely with others who are not in their circle of friends. The interaction can lead to new blossoming friendships.

Children playing outside with hula hoops together.

Being in Nature

Being in nature is, quite simply, good for the soul.

According to thriveglobal.com, fresh air and natural light are enough to give anyone a good pick-me-up and brighten their day. And, being near nature makes people happier.

Child happily hanging upside down from a tree

Encourages Sport Participation

Outdoor group games are, for many young children, their first taste of organized sports. 

While preschoolers may be too young to join the school cricket team, spending time playing games outside may foster in them a love of team outdoor sports.

Children who seldom go outside may be less inclined to suddenly become sporty in primary/elementary school.

During games, they learn about teamwork and how there is a purpose to the game, as well as rules that give it structure.

While it may be the trend to get kids to participate in sports at a younger and younger age, games are more developmentally appropriate for very young children.

Young girl playing soccer on a field

Better Health

It is widely known that moving is good for the body and for one’s overall health. Playing games outdoors contributes to making children active and healthy.

Many studies have been done to determine if outdoor play reduces the risk of obesity. In this study, children who played outside more often showed a decrease in their BMI over the course of a school year.

Attention Span

Playing games outside increases children’s attention span in several ways.

Following the rules and staying engaged in the game requires a great deal of focus. 

For younger children, games with too many rules are overwhelming and can result in children losing focus, whereas just a few rules aids in strengthening their attention span over time.

Movement is also known to have a positive effect on a child’s attention span. Studies such as this one from St Catherine University show that taking regular movement breaks and doing purposeful movement activities increase young kids’ levels of focus.

The same is true for adults. Think about how you feel if you have been sitting at a desk for long periods of time. Your concentration starts to wane and you even feel sluggish.

The simple act of getting up, grabbing a cup of coffee, or going for a 2-minute walk, is enough to recharge you and give you the energy to continue working.

One of the best ways to introduce a brain break and refocus kids is to go outside and play a game. Young children need a lot more playtime than adults so, in early childhood, playtime is always valuable and never a waste of time.

Healthy Outlet

Kids, just like adults, often get frustrated or have the feeling of wanting to break free. They become full of pent-up energy and need a release.

Physical movement is the perfect way for them to release tension and express themselves in a healthy way.

Being outdoors creates a sense of freedom and games can encourage children to let go and enjoy themselves.

Expressing one’s self is an important part of healthy emotional development.

Child stomping in a puddle outside with rain boots on

Learn to Follow Rules

Playing organized games is a great way to teach children to follow rules and why they exist. Without the rules, there is no sense of purpose to the activity. 

Children become familiar with rules in their society, home, classroom and in games, and learn that in some cases, rules are necessary for providing structure.

Following the rules also shows that a child has good listening skills.

These are just a few of the advantages of outdoor play in the early years.

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Need more info? Read about other types of play that are equally important for healthy development.

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