The importance of playing outside

Why is it so valuable?

You may have heard that play is important for a child’s development; in fact, it’s important enough to be enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The natural urge a child has to play is so strong it can be virtually impossible to stop them. But what do they really learn from playing tag that is so valuable?

Hamish jumpingChildren who have choice in their play activities develop a motivation that can carry through to other aspects of their life, including learning. Trying activities that pique their interest will help them push their physical and intellectual boundaries. Taking responsibility for their own learning helps foster the independence and self-confidence they’ll need as they grow. When they reflect on their achievements, with your help, whether they’ve improved on their personal best or produced a picture you can admire, it will help their self-esteem. Overcoming their failures will give them the resilience and persistence to face other challenges in their lives. You can help by encouraging them, giving them the opportunity to try a range of activities and providing them with the support and guidance to stretch themselves.

Playing with others teaches conflict management, negotiation and communication skills as well as providing the opportunity to build and maintain friendships. They’ll also need to cooperate, show empathy, take turns, support others, share and learn to understand other points of view. These skills will be invaluable to them in the adult world. Team sports, sharing a role play game or building a fort together can all give your child the chance to work with others.

Many games will challenge a child’s problem-solving and decision-making skills. If they’re building something, they’ll need to be able to identify the resources they need, gather them together, plan a sequence of actions, follow their plan and overcome any difficulties when things don’t work out as they’d hoped. You can help by making equipment available, encouraging them to think problems through and asking questions that will help them discover the solutions for themselves.

Hamish runningActivities that involve moving or manipulating objects will heighten the control they have over their muscles as well as their hand-eye coordination. This will help when it comes to writing and other fine detail tasks. More physical endeavors will help strengthen muscles and bones and improve cardiovascular health; weight-bearing activities are particularly good for building bone density, which is important for a growing child. Exercise also helps create a good appetite and more stable sleep pattern. Making models, drawing, sewing and sorting small items help develop fine motor skills.

Anything that requires them to focus on the task at hand or remember information will help their concentration levels. Using their creativity and imagination will give them the ability to make the intuitive leaps needed to find solutions to problems they encounter. Counting and literacy skills can be improved by a range of past times, from playing board games to keeping score in sports matches. Observation games, memory games, reading and getting them to tell stories are all effective ways to help them learn to make the best use of skills related to gathering, analysing and retrieving information in useful ways.

It doesn’t matter what games a child plays; they all contribute to the development of the skills needed to be an adult in a world that will be full of challenges both good and bad. It’s good to see children play; it’s even better when you know the benefits will last the rest of their lives.