The world we live in is full of electronic stimulation. Many kids these days are raised in front of a TV with a device or controller in their hands. What ever happened to kids playing outside until the streetlights came on? Video games play a large role in keeping kids inside these days, but what are the downfalls of playing video games versus playing outside? There are some pretty good reasons we should be urging our children to get outdoors, and the science is there to back it up. Better performance in school, more creativity, higher levels of fitness, more friends, less depression, and stronger bones are just a few of the perks of increased playtime outside. Read on to find out why children should play outside rather than playing video games all day.
The most obvious reason for getting your kids off the couch and outside to play is to exercise. Children need to be active for at least one hour each day, and getting them outdoors to play is a great way to ensure they get that hour in. Active play, such as with a ball or bike, provides your child will get moving for at least an hour. Sure, kids can exercise inside, but indoor exercise makes the task seem like a chore while playing outside is exercise that they don’t even realize they are doing.
Children interacting with other children is a crucial part of growing up. Children need to learn to make friends, work together, share, and cooperate. These interactions teach children how to treat others, and they can’t learn these things in front of a computer screen. School and organized sports teach some of these things, but those activities are very structured and don’t teach children everything they need to know about socialization. Kids need to learn how to interact with each other without a parent, teacher, or coach supervising every moment, and outdoor play allows them to do so. Science says that children who organize their own games and play in unstructured peer activities are less solitary and learn to interact with their peers.
All humans need sun. We need the sun to make Vitamin D, which is crucial for bone development and a healthy immune system, among other things. Sun exposure also helps promote healthy sleep and elevated mood. Sure, too much sun, especially sunburns, is bad for children and can increase skin cancer risk, but some sun is vital. Giving your children a chance to play outside in the sun can be difficult in areas where winter is long and gray, but there are always a few sunny days, even in the dreariest climates. If possible, send your children out into the sun whenever possible — if it’s cold outside, bundle them up, and if it’s hot outside, be sure to apply sunscreen and provide them with plenty of water.
Children need to take some risks. As a parent, this probably sounds a bit stressful because you want your kids to be safe. But if you keep your children in a protective bubble for their entire childhood, they won’t learn what they can and cannot do, affecting confidence and bravery later in life. As adults, you know that life is full of inevitable risks, and of course you want to protect your kids, but children need to learn the cause and effect of their actions. Climbing trees can be dangerous, and trying to make friends can result in rejection, but these are essential life lessons that need to be learned during childhood. Lessons learned from failure are just as important and sometimes more significant than the ones learned from success. And besides, you’ll be there to pick up the pieces if they try and fail.
Much like taking risks as a child helps with confidence later in life, playing outdoors as a kid helps with planning, prioritizing, negotiation, multitasking, and troubleshooting as an adult. Creativity and imagination also fall into this category. Children learn and practice these skills through unstructured playtime. Kids need to be alone with other kids to create their own games, figure things out, and amuse themselves. Being outside encourages all of these behaviors since there aren’t distractions like iPads and Xboxes in the way.
No matter what climate you live in, you should be encouraging your kids to get outside and play. Unsupervised and unstructured play with other children is vital for your child’s physical, mental, and emotional development. Don’t let the word unsupervised scare you — you can watch from a distance, but let your kids take some risks and get dirty; it’s good for them.
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