Being outside, playing and exploring, is an important part of a child’s life. Outdoor activity
increases creativity, imagination, social connections and child's well-being.
However, there are increasing concerns about the disconnection between children and nature.
There are also concerns about lack of time for unstructured outdoor play and their negative
consequences for children’s long-term health and wellbeing. They are more in front of
computers than outdoors. Some potential reasons are: disappearing access to natural areas,
competition from television and computers, dangerous traffic, more homework and other time
Naturally, children have a great need for physical exercise and activity. It gives them the
chance to explore their environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, to increase
flexibility, fine motor skills. This, consequently, leads to better social skills and connections.
Children learn through experience. Outdoor play provides stimulation which cannot be
achieved indoors. Playing outside is a critical element of growing-up.
The specific environment used for play can have different cognitive, social and motor
development impacts on children. Outdoor education and activity is not just important, but
crucial for child development.
„Tony sits focused on his computer screen. Keisha's watching her favorite television
program. And Kim is enthusiastically playing video games. What do these three scenarios
have in common? They're all taking place indoors – a situation becoming more and more
typical in the lives of American children“ (Internet source).
There are increasing concerns about the disconnection between children and nature- the time
spent outside is likely less than it was before. There are also concerns about risk-averse
approaches to play, lack of time for unstructured outdoor play, and negative consequences for
children’s long-term health and wellbeing (Moore & Cooper-Marcus, 2008). Many of us can
remember the famous phrase from our childhood : „ You should go out and play! Why are you
still at home?“.
Children have a great need for physical exercise and activity. They need the chance to use
their muscles to run, swing, jump, skate and ride a bike, and to be out in the fresh air and
sunshine. They have to use their whole body when they play outdoors, and find such physical
activities interesting and challenging. Louv (2008), noticed how modern family life has
changed dramatically in the last two decades. He called this phenomenon, „nature-deficit
disorder“. And really, today’s children and families often have limited opportunities to
connect with the natural environment. Nowadays parents seem not to suggest to their children
to go out and play. Why is it so? Some potential reasons are: disappearing access to natural
areas, competition from television and computers, dangerous traffic, more homework and
other time pressures. Parents and children spend a lot of time in front of television,
computers, tablets, etc. Children spend more time being online, viewing television and
playing video games, than they do being physically active outside (Louv, 2008). Families are
eating more processed, high-calorie foods due to their busy schedules. These changes have led
to an epidemic of childhood obesity, which presents serious health threats for children
including heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems (Louv,
2008). A fifth-grader in a San Diego classroom put it succinctly: "I like to play indoors better
'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are“ (Internet source).
One of the potential reasons is also, living far away from the parks. Parents are afraid to let
their children go far from the house (which is completely understandable). But, children do
not need a big playground or large field in order to have a good time playing- we have to let
them go outside and explore their environment.
Why is outdoor play so important?
Play is a pivotal part of a child’s life. It fosters creativity, imagination, social connections,
and learned behaviors. Play is a critical element of growing-up (Parsons, 2011).
The specific environment used for play can have different impacts on children: Cognitive,
social and motor development. There are three types of outdoor playscapes which experts
point to as landscapes which can fulfil the need for childhood outdoor play: natural, wild, and
constructed places (Parsons, 2011). Natural playscapes most often include elements of
vegetation and topography which children find very interesting. In addition, natural
playscapes are often process driven. One of the most beneficial elements of natural playscapes
are that they require the use of all senses: sight, sound,smell, touch, and taste.
Constructed playscapes can offer children the security they and their parents may need to
enjoy outdoor playscapes. These playscapes must be carefully constructed to offer similar
opportunities to natural playscapes (Parsons, 2011).
Children have a great need for physical exercise and activity and a chance to use their body to
run, jump, and to be out in the fresh air. They are drawn to active play outdoors.
Outdoor play fosters opportunities for creativity, imagination, social connections, and learned
behaviors. Children learn through experience; they learn by seeing, smelling, tasting,
and touching. As human beings, we grow to appreciate what is familiar and we grow
to love what we develop personal connections to (Parsons, 2011). Outdoor play has
the ability to offer children stimulation which cannot be achieved indoors.
Understanding the relationships between play, experiences in nature,environmental identity,
the health, learning, attention, and development benefits of outdoor play is very important.
The Role of Schools
The outdoors is the very best place for preschoolers to practice and master emerging
physical skills. It is in the outdoors that children can fully and freely experience motor skills
like running, leaping, and jumping. It is also the most appropriate area for the practice of ball-
handling skills, like throwing, catching, and striking (Internet source).
Outdoor play in nature offers a number of benefits, including opportunities to learn: physical
skills and build stamina, social skills, how to manage risks, and respect for nature. The role of
schools is very important. If the teacher explains why is so important to spend time outside,
or, even better, decide to take the children out for an outdoor class, it is likely that children
will accept it easier. However, as mentioned before, children are naturally drawn to spend
time outside, so there is no big need to „convince“ them to do it. What teachers can do is, to
teach them how to spend their time outside. This might begin with small steps such as
planting a vegetable garden or creating a digging patch. Various publications, including
Elliott (2008) and Danks (2010), suggest many practical ideas. They reflect the local
landscape and weather, support children’s interests and prompt many play possibilities. For
example, a windy place might become the site for small trees that offer protective shelter
and/or sound experiences. Seasonal plant changes provide a variety of leaves and flowers and
visiting wildlife invite investigation. Spatial arrangements are important too, as spaces
designed for different types of play add interest and promote sustained engagement (Internet
source). Smaller spaces may encourage play with others and communication through
symbolic or sensory play; open areas are likely to encourage multiple uses including
construction, low obstacle courses and ball games; areas with soft-fall support physical
activity such as swinging and climbing (Internet source). Using plants, rocks, logs or hay
bales to create borders and pathways that define different play areas increases creativity and
problem-solving skills. An outdoor learning environment is never finished.
But, sometimes teachers refuse to take the children outside for a walk or an outdoor class. The
reason is that teachers are often afraid of the parent's reaction if something occurs outside.
This is completely normal. When child runs and swings, it is very possible that he can fell and
eventually, hurt himself. But, it that really fault of the teacher? Here we are not reffering to
the serious injures related to lack of attention and teacher's irresponsibility. We are speaking
about completely normal events, in which a child learns what he can, and what he is not
supposed to do. Additionally, if we remove all rocks and obstacles from the playground, did
we really do a good thing for the children? Once when they are all grown up, how will they be
prepared for a way bigger obstacles in life?
Schools offer a location where research on the benefits of outdoor play and nature experiences
can be directly translated and applied to environmental education and playscapes (Parsons,
2011). While outside, children frequently have the opportunity to initiate their own
learning experiences and activities, with teachers available to support them.
Benefits of the outdoor play
Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually,
emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically (Kellert, 2005). Research shows
that outdoor free play gives kids many valuable benefits, including the development of
physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills. Benefits of the outdoor play are, as we
mentioned earlier, numerous. They can be categorised into groups: physical, cognitive,
bihevioral (social, understanding) and psychological benefits.
Some of the physical benefits of the outdoor play are:
An increase in physical development, capability, and activity;
Setting up patterns for an active, healthy lifestyle;
Fewer children suffering from diseases such as obesity, Diabetes, and ADD/ADHD;
Children who experience school grounds with diverse natural settings are more physically
active, more aware of nutrition, more civil to one another and more creative (Bell and
Dyment, 2006). Contact with the natural world can significantly reduce symptoms of attention
deficit disorder in children as young as five years old (Kuo and Taylor, 2004).
Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables (Bell &
Dyment, 2008) and to show higher levels of knowledge about nutrition (Waliczek, & Zajicek,
2006). They are also more likely to continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives
(Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002). Reseach shows that more time spent outdoors is related to
reduced rates of nearsightedness, also known as myopia, in children and adolescents
(American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2011) (Internet source).
Some of the cognitive benefits of the outdoor play are:
Stronger language, problem-solving, and communication skills through projects and
Developing an interest in science and math through connecting with nature;
Fostering learning through self-initiation, control, and personal responsibility;
Familiarity with and appreciation of nature;
Wide, expansive view of how the world works;
Enhances cognitive abilities;
Improves academic performance;
Building stewardship skills for the environment.
Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity, problem-
solving, and intellectual development (Kellert, 2005). Daily exposure to natural settings
increases children’s ability to focus and enhances cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000).
Studies in the USA show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of nature-
based experiential education support significant student gains in social studies, science,
language arts, and math. Students in outdoor science programs improved their science testing
scores by 27% (American Institutes for Research, 2005).
Bihevioral (social, understanding)
Some of the bihevioral benefits of the outdoor play are:
Improves social relations;
Studies of children in school yards found that children engage in more creative forms of play
in the green areas. They also played more cooperatively (Bell and Dyment, 2006). Children
will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have
regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors (Burdette and
Whitaker, 2005). Access to green spaces, and even a view of green settings, enhances peace,
selfcontrol and self-discipline within inner city youth, and particularly in girls (Taylor, Kuo
and Sullivan, 2001).
Some of the psychological benefits of the outdoor play are:
Children are happier;
They have higher and more positive self-esteem;
Effective relationship building in a cooperative, non-competitive environment;
Building a healthy and balanced internal psychology from time spent alone;
Manifesting classroom harmony;
Psychological benefits of the outdoor play are a consequence of the other, earlier mentioned
benefits. Happy children, who have friends and get along well, with expanded network of
social connections, will have higher and more positive self-esteem. They will be also able to
play alone, and will enjoy it. Green plants reduce stress among highly stressed children (Wells
and Evans, 2003).
When parents and teachers think back to their own childhoods, chances are some of their
fondest memories are of outdoor places and activities. Such memories might include a
favorite climbing tree or a secret hiding place, learning to turn cartwheels with a friend, or
playing tag with the family dog (Internet source). Despite this, childhood connection with
nature is decreasing from generation to generation. Busy schedules and lack of time are some
of the reasons for which parents and children in modern families do not spend time together
as, for example, an average family used to do two decades ago. Nowadays, children spend
more time indoors than outdoors. They watch television, spend time on Internet or play video-
Experiences in nature help to shape children’s conceptions and values and encourage children
to become environmentally concious. Children are naturally drawn to spend time outside.
They enjoy in learning new things and exploring their environment. Naturally, children have a
great need for physical exercise and activity. It gives them the chance to explore their
environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, to increase flexibility, fine motor
skills. This, consequently, leads to better social skills and connections. It fosters creativity,
imagination, social connections, and learned behaviors. Play is a critical element of growing-
Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually,
emotionally, socially, spiritually and physical. Research shows that outdoor free play gives
kids many valuable benefits, including the development of physical, emotional, social and
cognitive skills. Children rely on both their independent experiences with nature and the
influence of adults and peers.
Hopefully, we will not need many more researches to take place in order to convince parents
that is very important to teach their children to love the nature and to provide them a quality