The below blog post has been written as a combination based on my knowledge as a P.E Teacher and information from parentingscience.com.
Benefits of Outdoor Play
1. Opportunities for hands-on learning occasions about physical forces and new world concepts
Outdoor play doesn’t guarantee that a child will become more physically coordinated. But when children play outside, they usually have more freedom to move around and explore a variety of motor skills. They can do things that aren’t typically possible indoors – run at top speed, climb tall structures, swing from their arms. It's much easier to learn what 'squish' means if you get to feel mud squishing through your fingers. So, going outdoors is an opportunity for kids to widen their sensory experiences, and gain an intuitive, "embodied" understanding of how things work.
2. Reduced stress levels, better moods, and improved concentration
Not all time spent outdoors is equal. Nature experiences have a special, restorative effect. For instance, studies suggest that nature walks trigger short-term improvements in mood and stress recovery. There is also evidence to suggest that kids become more attentive and focused after playing in natural settings.
3. More naturally-attuned sleep rhythms
As parents, we think that by getting kids outside, they will naturally sleep through the night because they are tired. However, this may not always be the case. What it can do, is decrease the amount of time that it takes kids to start feeling drowsy at night. So outdoor play may help children fall asleep earlier in the evening. The reason? Outdoor play exposes children to sunlight, and is a powerful cue for programming the brain's "inner clock." Meaning it begins producing the "drowsy making" hormone, melatonin, earlier in the evening. So, if you've got a kid who stays up too late at night; increase sunlight exposure during the day and limit exposure to artificial lighting at night as it can suppress or delay the release of melatonin.
4. Reduced risk of nearsightedness
Researchers believe that playing outdoors provides the eyes with a break from “close work” like reading, and therefore decreases the risk of near-sightedness.
5. Greater exposure to bright light, which enhances health and mental performance
Sunlight - even the light we encounter outside on an overcast day, far exceeds the lighting we typically encounter indoors. So going outside makes a big difference in the amount of light exposure we encounter. Additionally, exposure to sunlight helps ensure that kids get enough vitamin D, affecting numerous health issues, including bone growth, muscle function, and even the timing of puberty. Having adequate exposure to sunlight can also help tune the brain's inner clock to maintain healthy sleeping rhythms. And here's one more reason to care about your child's exposure to sunlight: bright light helps kids concentrate, and may actually enhance the formation of synapses in the brain.
6. Outdoor play is a good first step towards preventing obesity
Recently, researchers tracked changes in BMI (body mass index) of more than 2800 children (3 and 4-year-olds) and found for every additional minute of outdoor play, a child was 1% less likely to become obese. That is amazing results. But we need to keep in mind, studies of older kids fail to support the idea. So, it’s during these early years that we, as parents need to promote lifelong physical activity as best we can so our kids continue good physical health practices later in life.
7. Increased activity levels, and greater freedom to run, jump and climb
Outdoor play can boost activity levels, which is obviously a good thing. Kids need cardiovascular exercise for good health. But when we count exercise as one of the benefits of outdoor play, we should keep in mind the limitations. Some kids need additional encouragement to be physically active. Merely going outdoors isn’t enough! Playing with a buddy or sibling can help keep kids active outside. And some kids may need more positive encouragement from an adult. So, show them how to do it.