Work hard, play hard: how outdoor play is essential to child development

Mar 1 2023

Two children in red boilersuits look out across the Brecon Beacons
Everyone knows that playing is fun. Climbing trees, cycling at top speeds, and learning new things about the world with your friends are some of the best parts of growing up. But did you know that spending time outdoors is an essential part of child development? With research from the NHS to Mind celebrating the importance of playing outside, there’s a wealth of information available at your fingertips. We’re passionate about education and making spending time outside enjoyable. So, we’ve created a list of some of the key reasons to encourage outdoor play, so read on to find out why you should be encouraging your class to play outdoors.
A girl wearing a bike helmet and pushing a bike looks over her shoulder at her friend

It's brilliant exercise

According to the NHS, children need to be physically active for about an hour a day, and outdoor play is a fun-filled way to help meet that target. It’s good for their health, helping to strengthen their muscles and bones, while burning off energy. So let your class loose! Whether they’re happiest tearing along a cycle path or exploring wildlife on the beach, getting outside will get them moving and improve their fitness.

Children stand at the base of a waterfall

It encourages taking risks

The Health and Safety Executive emphasises the importance of letting children engage in safe risk-taking activities through play. It ‘develops a child’s risk awareness’, improves their independent learning and problem solving, and ‘prepares them for their future lives’ . Research by the University of Exeter also suggests that children who spend more time playing with risk display fewer signs of the symptoms of anxiety and depression . Activities like orienteering, nightline, and mountain biking are adventurous and can feel risky to children, but when carried out with supervision by trained instructors are perfectly safe. but when carried out with supervision by trained instructors are perfectly safe.

Three children wearing raincoats jump for joy

Playing outside boosts their mood

Playing outside is an excellent mood booster . There’s nothing quite like the feeling of splashing in muddy puddles or imagining you’re a pirate setting sail on the ocean to make a child’s day better. Studies have backed this up too. According to Mind, being outside can improve your child’s self-esteem and encourage good mental health. It’s also a great way to soak up Vitamin D, which is used to produce and release serotonin, the 'happy hormone'. So, for happy and energised pupils, let them explore the outdoors.

It helps them sleep soundly

Sleep is important to give children enough energy for the next day’s learning and play. It also helps with their wellbeing, health, and development. For your pupil’s parents, getting them to go to sleep at bedtime can be tricky. Fortunately, playing outside exposes them to daylight and burns off energy so they’re more likely to feel tired when it comes to bedtime.

A blonde girl wearing a wooly hat and a raincoat peers down at the sea

Learning about nature

Research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reports that nature-based play increases children’s connection to and awareness of the environment. It also teaches them practical and valuable outdoor skills. This kind of knowledge is called tacit knowledge, a type of learning gained from personal experience and context that would otherwise be difficult to write down or teach in a tangible way. Whether your class are building shelters in the forest or discovering new textures like bark and sand , outdoor play is a wonderful way for them to learn more about the world around them. , outdoor play is a wonderful way for them to learn more about the world around them.

From tearing along a cycle track to scaling a real rock face, there are plenty of ways to have adventures in the great outdoors. If you’d like to get in touch about booking a visit to one of our Outdoor Centres for your school, fill in our enquiry form and we’ll be in touch to discuss it with you shortly.