Healthy KidsYMCA Camps and Outdoor EducationYMCA Child Care

Making the case for regular outdoor play

18 April 2024 - by Cheryl - YMCA Child Care

With updates from Tia Morrison on April 18, 2024

What’s your fondest childhood memory? For many of us, the answer is simple: Playing outside. We cherished climbing trees, bike riding around the neighbourhood, learning to rollerblade, and playing with friends in the park. 

Today, children spend more time playing indoors than outdoors, partly because of a lot of screen-based playtime, safety concerns, busy family schedules, and fewer outdoor spaces. The 2022 ParticipACTION report card graded Canadian children's overall physical activity and active play a D.

Children must stay active by playing outdoors, says the Canadian Pediatric Society. Here are five reasons why. 

1. Outdoor play improves overall health

Did you know that playing outdoors raises vitamin D levels? This vitamin is essential for bone health, immunity, and mood. Playing outside also keeps the blood circulating and helps prevent obesity and heart disease.   

 child in a white tank top and red shorts aims an arrow at a target on lush green YMCA campgrounds, accompanied by a camp counselor wearing a green sweater.

2. Outdoor play develops life skills

Children learn while playing outdoors. Engaging with the natural environment around them, alone or with friends, improves their communication, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills.  

Young children, wearing vibrant summer hats, form a circle as they squat to examine moss, leaves, branches, and soil on the ground.

3. Outdoor play burns excess energy  

When children run, jump, climb, and raise their voices outside, they release excess energy. Playing outside also provides a great change in environment after spending hours indoors in front of screens. Plus, the freedom for children to do as they please while playing outside cannot be recreated inside.  

A child, adorned in a yellow lifejacket, paddles a yellow kayak during a YMCA summer camp program

4. Outdoor play encourages children to take risks 

Children need to learn to take risks without being guided by a parent or teacher.  Their self-confidence, self-esteem, and decision-making skills improve while navigating unknown or new situations. For example, they may ask themselves, “Is this big slide as scary as I think it is? Will I be able to climb this tree?” Outdoor play encourages children to push their boundaries. 

A child, dressed in a blue cold weather jacket and jeans, hangs upside down from a bar on a YMCA child care playground.

5. Outdoor play improves focus and attention

Unstructured outdoor play allows children to do things at their own pace. It’s a time to relax and recharge their batteries. They return to their schoolwork and other activities refreshed, focused, and excited to learn. Looking for outdoor play ideas for your kids? 

Four determined children, dressed in helmets, graphic tees, and rock climbing gear, exert effort as they pull on a rope to assist a fellow camper in climbing at the YMCA's Camp Cedar Glen program.

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