8 scientifically proven ways that children benefit from outdoor play

We all know that running around in the fresh air is great for kids. They let off steam, stay fit, calm down and concentrate better in class. And, of course, there are plenty more benefits. But in a world where obesity rates are soaring – and kids are enamoured with their TV’s, games and iPods, it’s great to be reminded of the reasons that outdoor play is scientfically proven to be great for kids. Let’s take a look!

Increased vitamin D

Getting enough vitamin D from food is surprisingly difficult. In fact, 80% to 90% of our vitamin D comes from sunshine. Fortunately though, heading out into the sunshine and getting enough vitamin D is a breeze! According to a report by Harvard Medical School, all children require is sensible exposure to the sun, free from sunscreen, for 10 to 15 minutes, and they’ll receive enough vitamin D for the day. But remember, after 10 to 15 minutes is up, it’s time to slap on that sunscreen!

Decreased stress levels

There are many research studies that have proven that playing outdoors reduces stress in children. These results come from a multitude of contributing factors, ranging from psychological responses to improvements in physiological health.

Increased resistance to disease

Multiple studies have shown that playing in the dirt, literally getting those little fingers amongst the soil, helps kids stay healthy. Yes, it’s true – bacteria, viruses and other germs live in the soil, but these actually help boost our immune system, along with helping brain development. Studies have also shown that playing in the dirt can improve a child’s mood as well as reduce stress and anxiety levels. For example, a 2010 study performed by Sage Colleges in Troy, New York encountered bacteria naturally occurring in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This bacteria accelerates learning and brightens the mood by stimulating neuron growth and raising serotonin levels – which is enough to get us all out into the garden sometime soon!

Improved vision

Numerous studies have shown that direct sunshine as well as natural light occurring outdoors decreases the chance of nearsightedness and improves distance vision in children. Children who spend more time playing outdoors have been shown to have better distance vision that those who play predominantly indoors. A study from the Ohio State University College of Optometry says that 14 hours per week of outdoor light is effective for better vision.

Increased concentration levels, even with kids suffering from ADHD

Improving concentration levels in children - sage Institute of Child CareThe University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has produced studies that show natural settings and green outdoor activities reduce attention deficit symptoms in kids. Outdoor activities had a more positive impact on children, as young as five years old, than any other setting.

The University of Michigan performed a study in 2008 that found that attention spans and memory performance improved by a whopping 20% after subjects spent approximately 60 minutes interacting with nature.

Further proof of increased concentration has been found in a large survey of educators. Seventy eight percent of the educators surveyed reported that “children who spend regular time in unstructured outdoor play are better able to concentrate and perform better in the classroom.”

Improved physical fitness

It’s no surprise that playing outdoors increases physical fitness levels in children. Regular exercise builds healthy, active bodies. Playing outside lends itself to all sorts of different physical activities, such as running, skipping, climbing, walking, playing games, hiding, performing gymnastic activities, playing amongst nature and generally burning calories, strengthening and conditioning young bodies. The importance of this play cannot be underestimated when it comes to healthy weight management and cardiovascular fitness.

Better academic achievement

Outdoor play benefits for academics - Sage Institute of Child CareNow there’s exciting new evidence that links physical activity with academic achievement. In the US, a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine asserts that “children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardised academic tests than children who are less active.”

If that’s not enough to encourage us to get our kids exercising, there’s further evidence that even the simple activity of taking a stroll outdoors increases creativity. So let’s get the children – and ourselves – outside for a good old-fashioned dose of healthy fresh air and exercise!

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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