Not All Play is Created Equal: Outdoor Play Offers Major Developmental Benefits

Have you ever heard the expression, “That’s child’s play?” Usually meant to minimize the importance of an activity, the expression really has it all wrong because few things are as important as play in a child’s life. And as children grow up to be future leaders in education, medicine, politics, and various other fields, children’s play impacts our world in a tremendous way.

Why Play Matters

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.”[1] Furthermore, undirected play allows children to learn to navigate the social world for themselves in a relatively safe arena. They learn to approach others politely, negotiate desires, problem solve, and work in a group. They learn about the emotions of others, which fosters empathy. They also have the chance to practice compromise and sharing. All these skills will serve children well in future tasks and in critical relationships in their lives.

Moving Outdoors

Clearly, the role of play in the life of a child is far-reaching, but not all play is created equal. An opportunity to play outdoors, according to a recent Psychology Today article, encourages those same social skills as indoor play but extends learning even further outside the child’s limited daily boundaries.[2] To engage with the environment by planting a garden or to fall in love with the earth by visiting a beautiful National Park can change for the better the way a child feels about his world. The physical benefits are numerous too, with children soaking up life-sustaining vitamin D in the sunshine and moving their bodies to keep them fit and strong. An article earlier this month is the Albuquerque Journal names some other positive side effects of outdoor play, including reduced depression, improved eyesight, stronger bones, and better sleep. [3]

Reasons and Repercussions

If play is so great, why aren’t today’s kids doing very much of it? Partly because parents have become skilled at scheduling their children for a lot of activities. Parents are being encouraged by our culture and media to believe that their most important role is to prepare their children to be adults as quickly as possible, and this rush to adulthood is having dire developmental consequences.1 For some, the pressure of growing up fast is leading to anxiety disorders and depression that can last a lifetime. In addition, the lack of outdoor playtime has reached what some would call crisis proportions, and the problem has a name: Nature Deficit Disorder.4Children find themselves stuck indoors all day for a variety of reasons. There are parental safety concerns, a huge increase of single parenthood and thus less schedule flexibility for outdoor play, and many children even prefer the indoors because they are accustomed to being plugged in—almost literally.


The solution is more play: undirected as well as adult guided, and outdoors when possible. Danielle Cohen of argues that nothing builds confidence; creativity; or physical, emotional, and mental strength like getting a child moving outdoors.[4] Outdoor play also reduces stress and fatigue in a developing brain and body. And it’s just fun. So, visit a playground, arboretum, or zoo. Take a walk or go for a swim. Plant a garden. Just get moving.

PLAYTIME recognizes that children need to play, explore, and move their bodies. That’s why we manufacture outdoor play equipment that is based on the physical and emotional developmental needs of children in order to offer solutions to some of the struggles experienced by our future teachers and firefighters. Our team is composed of creative and artistic employees using high tech innovation and a dash of old-fashioned fun to design the best play experiences we can to promote the best in every child we serve. At PLAYTIME, what we do is just child’s play. And we couldn’t be happier about that.






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