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How Much Time Should Children Spend Outside?

As the days get longer and warmer, most of us probably can’t wait to be spending more time outdoors. But, sometimes, our little ones would rather be watching TV than exploring the garden; so how beneficial is outdoor play, and how can we encourage our little ones to do more of it?





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Over the years, many studies have been conducted on the effects of outdoor play on little ones. The results have shown a plethora of benefits, from improved sleep to better eyesight. Let’s take a look:

:) Exercise

Perhaps one of the more obvious benefits, getting children outside encourages physical activity. In fact, a 2018 study found that children were two times more active when playing outside compared to inside - and this only improved if they were joined by siblings or friends! Of course, exercise is incredibly important for growing bodies, encouraging muscle development and reducing the risk of a range of health issues.

:) Eyesight

Somewhat more surprising, time spent outdoors can also protect against shortsightedness. A large study looking at the various causes of myopia found that, while extended periods looking closely at screens could increase shortsightedness, exercising in natural light outdoors had the opposite effect.

:) Sleep

Your body’s sleep cycle is managed by the pineal gland which, in turn, is stimulated by sunlight. So, more time spent in natural light, and less in artificial light can aid sleep. A large body of research shows that babies who’ve spent time outside during the day spend more time relaxing in bed - and we all know how beneficial sleep is for our wellbeing!

:) Immunity

There’s a reason Sunny D was so popular in the noughties (before we realised it had basically no nutritional value, that is). Our bodies need the vitamin D from sunlight to develop strong bones and a healthy immune system. Sunlight also triggers your body to make more serotonin, which makes us feel focused and calm!

:) Executive Function

That’s our ability to plan, prioritise, entertain ourselves, troubleshoot, multitask… essentially executive function is very important for daily life, and children need unstructured time to fully develop it. Playing outside with others is perfect for this. Additionally, one study found that playing in a green space during breaktime improved working memory. Handy!

:) Getting Sensory

We’ve talked many times about how young children need to utilise all their senses to learn effectively. Time outside can be perfect for this, as they see new sights, feel new textures, smell the flowers and maybe even taste a berry or two (with caution, of course!)

:) Self Awareness

Of course, we want to keep our little ones safe, and make sure they never feel pain. However, it is important for them to take some risks in order to learn what they can and can’t do. One study suggests that avoiding those possible bumps and scrapes can increase anxiety, while having a go at running, jumping and climbing trees can lessen those fears, instead teaching children what their bodies are and are not capable of.

So there really are a huge number of benefits to outdoor play! And this is really just the tip of the iceberg too - outdoor play can also boost socialisation skills and a love for the environment, and counteract some symptoms of ADHD, too. But what if your little one isn’t an ‘outdoorsy’ person? What if they favour books over bugs, or TV over tree climbing?

We’ve put together a few of our favourite tips for getting the little ones outside:


:) Wear old clothes

Some children can get a little anxious about getting dirty, so try negating that fear by popping them in some old or worn out clothes.

:) Make a collection

Leaves, flowers, pebbles, funny-looking twigs… adding the goal of making a collection can refocus your little one’s attention, and get them excited about the things they find!

:) Be an artist

Whether it’s a self-portrait or an abstract depiction of autumn, using natural materials to create collages can be really rewarding. We have loads of natural art project ideas on our Activity Hub, available on the MEplace Parenting App.

:) Make potions

This might sound a bit grubby to us adults, but can be immense fun (and a great way of sparking the imagination) for little ones. Simply fill a container with water, invite your little one to find plants and herbs to throw in their concoction, and ask them what the effect of their potion is! One of my personal favourite toys as a child was a cast iron cauldron my mum found at a charity shop. I cast many spells with it, before dumping the used water over the vegetable garden to help the rhubarb grow.

:) Invite friends

One of the most effective ways to encourage outdoor play is to provide a playmate. Why not set up an after-school or nursery group? You can head to a local park with a few snacks and let the little ones play freely!

Lastly, remember that free play is very important for children, so while these ideas can be some great inspiration, remember to let them lead the play as much as possible.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Lizzie
Content Creator @MEplace

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