Although outdoor play for children may be more prevalent during summer, spending free time outside can particularly benefit a child’s development when pursued year-round. For parents and educators, hours spent outside shouldn’t be seen as a detraction from time that could be spent on schoolwork. Rather, outdoor play should be recognized not just as a treat reserved for summertime, but as a full-time staple of healthy development throughout the school year.
In addition to its more commonly known health benefits, outdoor play in childhood is also associated with many soft skills that are important for school success, such as executive functioning. Executive functioning is defined as a set of mental processes that enable us to plan, prioritize, focus attention, filter distractions, and more. These skills are important assets for learning in preschool, elementary school, and beyond.
A recent study from Norway looked at the associations between time spent outdoors during child care and executive functioning. Among children ages 4 through 7, those who spent more time outside during child care performed better on an executive function assessment and showed fewer inattention-hyperactivity symptoms. Further, numerous studieshave found that playful engagement with nature in kids under age 12 was linked with improved mental health and emotional regulation. (“Playful engagement” consists of open-ended, child-directed experiences such as free play, exploration, and child-initiated learning, in contrast to externally directed activities, such as school gardening projects and adult-led field trips).
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