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Outdoor Play


Mom, Dad, boy and girl children playing at the beach




Outdoor play is a big part of healthy growth and development for your child.

Why outdoor play is important

Spending time outside gives your child the chance to explore the environment and have adventures. She can play her favourite games, test her physical limits, express herself and build her self-confidence. Outside play can also mean more mess – and more mess often means more fun!

When your child’s outside, he probably has more space and freedom for big movements, like running, jumping, kicking and throwing. Physical activities like these are good for his health, fitness and physical development.

A bit of sun won’t go astray either – small amounts of sunlight exposure can help prevent vitamin D deficiency.

Getting your child outside: some ideas

It’s a good idea to encourage your child to play outside several times a day.

Outside play doesn’t have to be a big deal, particularly if you have an outdoor space at your home. Especially with older children, sometimes all you need to do is shoo them out the door and watch them go. Younger children will need you to monitor them a bit more closely and help reduce the number of mishaps while they play.

Children love to ‘help’. Outdoor play can include working with your child on everyday tasks, such as weeding, sweeping the driveway, watering vegetables or hanging clothes on the line.

Other outdoor activities include using active forms of transport, such as walking or riding bikes or scooters. Even younger children can hop out of the stroller and walk for a little while.

Making time to visit your local park or playground is a low-cost and easy option if you don’t have a yard. Your child will probably have even more room to run around there and meet other children from the community. If you can walk to the park, you can also teach your child about road and traffic safety on the way.

As your child gets older, you could encourage her to try a structured outdoor activity, such as a junior sport.

Types of outdoor play for different ages

Outdoor play helps your baby learn about different surroundings, and can make him feel more comfortable with the world around him. Some ideas for outdoor play with your baby include:

  • tummy time on a blanket or towel
  • crawling on grass, under outdoor furniture or through old boxes
  • watching trees move and listening to birds
  • looking at different coloured cars, street signs or traffic light signals.

Toddlers are keen to explore the world around them and test out their growing physical skills. Outdoor play for your toddler might include:

  • throwing and chasing balls
  • wheeling, pushing or pulling different toys and objects over increasing distances and across different surfaces
  • walking, running or jumping into puddles, around trees, over stones or cracks in the footpath, or towards favourite objects
  • playing in sand, mud or small amounts of water (but always supervise water play to ensure safety).

Preschoolers are learning to play with other children. They’re also big on make-believe. You can make the most of this stage with outside play ideas such as:

  • games of tag or hide-and-seek
  • crawling through tunnels or climbing over fallen trees
  • moving in different ways with colourful leaves, flowers, scarves or streamers
  • building a castle out of boxes, clothes baskets or outdoor play equipment or furniture.

Your school-age child is becoming more involved in structured play, like sport, but it’s still important to make time for free play outside. At this age, children still enjoy:

  • building and creating with equipment, furniture or other things they find outside
  • chasing each other
  • playing tag
  • climbing trees.

Cold or wet weather doesn’t mean you and your child have to stay inside – in fact, it can fire up your child’s imagination and creativity. You could try walking or jumping in or over puddles on a rainy day or building a snowman or snow fort in the snow. Make sure your child is dressed in the right gear for the weather (coat, hat, gloves, boots, etc.)

Bumps and bruises

It’s natural to worry that your child could hurt herself when playing outdoors. Sometimes your child might be worried about trying something new. This is all a normal part of playing outside.

It’s OK for your child to push the play boundaries outside, where she has room to run faster, climb higher and jump further. It might mean some scratches, scrapes or a fall, but ‘risky play’ helps your child learn from mistakes and bounce back.

Did you know?
‘Risky’ play experiences are an important part of how your child learns and develops. They help your child understand his limits, think for himself, cope with challenges and gain self-confidence.

© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.

Resources & Links:

Physical Activity for Children and Teenagers  
Fitness: Getting and Staying Active  

Last Updated: November 30, 2014