December 3, 2023

The Importance of Outdoor Play for Brain Development

4 min read

When kids run, climb, throw and kick balls on outdoor playground equipment, they are not only boosting their physical fitness. They are also learning a lot about their world.

A new study suggests that more time spent outdoors may lessen the negative effects of toddlers watching too much screen time. So, what does outdoor play really do for kids’ brains?

Physical Activity

Children learn to move their bodies and develop coordination during outdoor play. They build muscle tone and practice self-efficacy, gaining confidence in their ability to get things done independently. They also learn how to communicate with their peers and pick up on social cues while playing with friends. Additionally, they learn how to manage and regulate their emotions through free-play. During the natural course of play, kids can experience and express a wide range of feelings including anger, frustration, joy and sadness.

Physical activity is also important for brain development, as the frontal cortex is activated during playtime. Research shows that playing outside can actually stimulate the fight-or-flight response in a safe and healthy way, helping kids to become better at managing their emotions.

Outdoor play immerses children in a multisensory world, with sights of trees and animals, sounds of cars going by, the smell of grass and flowers and the sun shining through the clouds. This sensory engagement helps children build their cognitive skills by learning how to process and organize information in a complex environment. Children who are surrounded by technology at an early age tend to have less developed cognitive abilities, so it’s crucial that they have the opportunity to spend time outdoors. This can help them be more successful in school, extracurricular activities and their future career.

Social Interaction

Outdoor play offers kids many opportunities to interact with other children in a variety of ways. They might work together to solve a problem on the playground or build an imaginary world with friends. These experiences teach kids how to be supportive and cooperative, which can help them become more resilient in the face of conflict.

Kids also learn to be aware of their own emotions and how they relate to others during outdoor play. They develop a love for nature and gain an understanding of how human actions can affect the environment. This passion is important for creating a sustainable future.

The freedom that comes with outdoor play can help kids improve their motor skills. It’s not uncommon for kids to run faster or jump higher when they play outside, and they may have a better sense of balance on uneven ground. In addition, they might be more comfortable with risks like climbing high structures or jumping off a swing.

Kids who spend more time outdoors often have a stronger ability to focus and concentrate. This is because they’re less distracted by the things around them, such as their phones or a computer screen. They’re able to give their attention to a task for longer periods of time, which is helpful for developing their concentration skills in school.


Outdoor play offers children a chance to be creative. They may create their own games or use natural elements to build structures. This creativity is essential for brain development. It also helps kids learn to problem-solve in different situations. It can help them think outside the box, which will be beneficial in their future careers and life.

Outdoor activities can also provide kids with a sense of community. They can play with other kids and find out how to work together to solve a problem. This can also teach them about the importance of sharing and taking turns in the real world. It can also increase their confidence levels as they learn to overcome challenges and reach goals that they didn’t think were possible.

The outdoors also gives them a sense of freedom that can’t be replicated indoors. This space allows them to be themselves and make friends without the worry of constant supervision. It also exposes them to more natural light, which is better for their eyesight and improves their moods.

It’s important for professionals to promote outdoor play and encourage kids to participate. By explaining the benefits, they can overcome fears of kids getting dirty or hurt. They can also show parents how important this time is for their children’s health and mental wellbeing. With this knowledge, parents will be more likely to prioritize outdoor activity for their children.


Whether they’re scaling tree trunks or building a sandcastle, outdoor play provides children with countless opportunities to challenge themselves and learn from their mistakes. This kind of play builds resilience and self-esteem by helping kids overcome obstacles and master new skills that make them proud of their accomplishments – even if it’s simply being able to balance on a fallen log or skate across an icy puddle.

During outdoor play, kids also learn to communicate with their peers and understand nonverbal cues. This is especially helpful for social development and can help kids build a sense of empathy for others as well as learning to recognize the feelings of those around them. Children who are able to communicate with their peers while playing outside can develop better problem-solving aptitudes and learn how to work together to solve conflicts, which will be valuable in later life as they pursue careers or relationships.

Children also develop a greater appreciation for nature and learn about sustainability when playing outdoors. This is important because it encourages them to be more mindful and aware of their environment, which will ultimately lead to a more environmentally conscious lifestyle as they grow into adults. This is an important part of building a healthy self-esteem because it will allow children to feel a sense of ownership over their environment and will teach them that they can make a difference in protecting their planet for future generations.

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