The Importance of Outdoor Play

The outdoor environment is where children can come into contact with the everchanging systems of nature and the four elements. It is the dynamic world of living and non-living things; the seasonal changes and different weather conditions provide children with a sense of time and place and offer endless possibilities for investigation.

The outdoor environment offers more freedom and space to move, and inspires different movement from that indoors. This is vital for young children to develop their co-ordination, build muscle mass and experiment with moving their bodies.The outdoors provides opportunities for children to fully and freely experience gross motor skills like running, leaping, and jumping as well as other manipulative skills such as throwing and catching.

Health and Wellbeing

Much research is available that indicates that being and playing outside is vital for children’s physical health and development, emotional wellbeing and promotes cognitive development and achievement.

‘The knowledge base shows that exposure to natural spaces – everything from parks and open countryside to gardens and other greenspace – is good for health.’

(Sustainable Development Commission 2008)

When outdoors, children have the freedom to explore and to develop their physical boundaries, to take risks and to discover the real world with all their senses. This can have huge positive effects on a child’s self esteem and confidence. Outside can be liberating; children have room to be active, noisy, messy and work on a large scale. Outside is dynamic; you cannot predict what might happen, and as such it provides opportunities to experience and develop emotions, what they feel like and how to deal with them.

Additionally, it is in the outdoors that children are likely to burn the most calories, which helps prevent obesity, a heart disease risk factor that has doubled in the past decade. The outside is also important because the outdoor light stimulates the pineal gland, the part of the brain that regulates the "biological clock," is vital to the immune system, and makes us feel happier.


Outside  has a higher concentration of oxygen in the air (25% more than indoors even with all windows and doors open). Oxygen is vital for all cells to respire in the body, but particularly for brain function to aid the process of learning. The outdoors has something more to offer than just physical benefits. There are benefits for cognitive and social/emotional development too. Outside, children are more likely to invent games. As they do, they're able to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. They feel safe and in control, which promotes autonomy, decision-making, and organisational skills. Inventing rules for games (as young children like to do) promotes an understanding of why rules are necessary. Although the children are only playing to have fun, they're learning.

Appreciating the Outdoors

We can't underestimate the value of the outdoors in heightening children’s aesthetic development.  Because the natural world is filled with beautiful sights, sounds, and textures, it is the perfect resource for the sensory development of young children.

Young children learn through their senses. Outside there are many different and wonderful things for them to see (animals, birds, and plants), to hear (the wind rustling through the leaves, a robin's song), to smell (fragrant early bluebells or the smell of rain-soaked grass), to touch (a fuzzy caterpillar or the bark of a tree), and even to taste (newly fallen snow or a raindrop on the tongue). Children who spend a lot of time acquiring their experiences through television and computers are using only two senses (hearing and sight), which can seriously affect their perceptual abilities.

Finally, what better place than the outdoors for children to be loud and messy and boisterous? Outside they can run and jump and yell, and expend some of their energy.

When we think back to our childhoods, many of our fondest memories are of outdoor places and activities. Such memories might include climbing a favourite tree, making dens or a secret hiding place. Maybe there was the rustle when we kicked through piles of autumn leaves, the feel of the sun on the first day warm enough to go without a jacket, or the taste of a picnic eaten on a blanket spread on the grass. Children usually share the values of the important adults in their lives. When we show an appreciation for the great outdoors, the children in our lives will follow our lead.