Benefits of Outdoor Play

The importance of outdoor play for young children's healthy development. A study written by Gabriela Bentoa and Gisela Diasb, available on

The content of this study highlights some great benefits of outdoor play. In many ways, we could not have written it better ourselves.

The study was based in Portugal and explored the impacts of the outdoor environment in an early childhood education setting. The study aimed to transform traditional educational practices by moving indoor activities to an outdoor environment. In the paper, they detail the main benefits related to outdoor play that emerged during the project (contact with natural elements, importance of risk, socialization opportunities) and highlight the role of professionals and families in creating quality outdoor play opportunities.

Key Insights

The study highlights three key themes that were identified to promote learning and development in the outdoor environment: contact with natural elements; importance of risk; socialization opportunities.

1. Contact with Natural Elements

Natural elements are defined as anything that can respond to children's imagination e.g. a stick that becomes a boat, a dog or a pen. This process of imagination can mobilize skills related to divergent thinking, creativity, problem solving, among others.

The use of natural elements in place of a commercial plastic toy in children's play also creates a more sustainable strategy for the environment and the sense of discovery creates an emotional connection towards the environment. If we assume that attitudes of respect and care are more likely to emerge regarding something that is dear to us, It is crucial to promote a sense of belonging and familiarity towards nature and the environment from an early age.

Activities related to playing with soil and water are learning opportunities for mathematics and science. As children fill and empty containers they explore notions related to weight, volume and time and as they talked about what they were experiencing, new vocabulary was being acquired.

2. Importance of Risk

A culture of fear has led us parents and caregivers to underestimate what children are capable of. Unfortunately, this has created an even more “dangerous” learning environment where children do not have the possibility to learn through experience.

It is essential to adopt a wider vision of risk, going beyond the possibility of accidents and consider the positive implications related to the feelings of success and happiness when a challenge or a new skill is mastered.

The study states that it is possible to assume risky play can promote important skills related to persistence, entrepreneurship, self-knowledge and problem solving.

During outdoor play, we should allow our children the opportunity to experiment with moments of failure and success, learning through trial and error. If we try to prevent all risky situations, children will not know how to deal with unpredictable environments and will lack the necessary confidence to overcome challenges in an autonomous way.

3. Socialization Opportunities

The outdoor, natural environment offers conditions for children and adults to show different aspects of their personality which normally do not emerge during the time indoors.

We particularly liked the quote from the study “during outdoor play, children become teachers and learners, sharing their knowledge and skills to accomplish different tasks or challenges”

In summary, the outdoor environment is not only a healthy environment for children, but also for adults, where levels of stress and anxiety seem to diminish.

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