Family life

Why outdoor play is important for kids

With the promise of spring weather comes the opportunity for kids to spend some much-needed time out of the house. There are many benefits that come with outdoor play, from motor-skill development and stress reduction to skills traditionally learned in a classroom—not to mention endless fun!

It is undeniable that the warmer weather, sunnier days and early buds add an extra spring to our step. After a long winter—not to mention another season of social distancing—there’s added incentive to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. It’s especially important when so many of us are stuck in front of screens doing virtual learning or “Zooming” our way through yet another meeting.

We all know that the benefits of kids spending time outdoors are plentiful: It develops their motor skills, builds stamina, strengthens muscles, improves their self-awareness and social development, helps with brain development and betters their sensory skills. Plus, it provides a great boost of vitamin D, which works to build and strengthen bones and also decreases the chances of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Spending time in nature also delivers an automatic mood boost and reduces stress, which is a win for the whole family. Added bonus? Playing under the big blue sky supports the concepts they learn in the virtual classroom. (Just don’t tell them that!) So while they run off some energy—that’ll help the bedtime routine—they’re also processing math concepts, making important science connections, nurturing their inner artist and meeting daily physical activity goals.

You can inspire your kids to rediscover outdoor play with some simple creative activities or by challenging them with new outdoor toys, which are a great way to develop fresh skills and make play more interactive. Here are some of our fave outdoor activities that will get their minds and bodies working.

Chart a course

Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise. Not only is it a fantastic workout but it also helps to foster creativity and lower the risk of depression. But if your kids are tired of going for yet another jaunt around the block, pick up a map of your city’s local trails or log on to your favourite map app and allow kids to pick a new path. For younger ones, turn a simple walk into a scavenger hunt by giving them a pair of binoculars and a list of things to look out for. Or “spy” some shapes and see if anyone can guess what object you’re referring to; a bird’s nest could be a circle and an evergreen can look like a triangle.
Classroom connection: Teaching your kid how to use a map allows them to navigate a route and is a great way to practise geography.

Pick up the pace

If a walk isn’t quite your speed, give a new set of wheels a spin. Whether it’s a skateboard or a scooter, a balance bike or wiggle car, there’s an option for everyone. Not only do these toys aid muscle development, but they also help kids practise coordination and decision-making skills as they figure out how to turn and when to stop. It’s also important for your kid to know what safety gear they’ll need; make sure they’re outfitted with a helmet, elbow and knee pads, and wrist guards.
Classroom connection: Scooters are the perfect way to start learning about early physics concepts, such as motion, friction, speed and distance.

Colour your world

What could be more inspiring than the great outdoors? Especially as the flowers start to bloom, birds return to the skies and spring showers leave behind magical rainbows. There are so many nature-focused arts and crafts that kids can engage in, but keep it simple. Sidewalk chalk is a classic and for good reason: It requires no prep for parents, leaves little mess and the sky is the limit. Kids can play games (think: hopscotch, four square or tic-tac-toe), draw colourful masterpieces or leave friendly messages for neighbours and friends. Plus, it’s super relaxing.
Classroom connection: Drawing and doodling are key components of art class, but kids can also learn about colours and shading. Flex their geometry skills by encouraging them to try grid art.

Focus on fun

Even kids who don’t like gym class are sure to find an outdoor sport that they like. Whether they’re drawn to team games or solo sports, the options are endless. Think beyond everyday sports (like basketball, hockey and baseball) and try something new, such as archery, swing ball or bocce ball. Keep it fun so that children can try out a variety of different games without worrying about scoring enough points or being on the winning team.
Classroom connection: Engaging in active sports definitely counts toward gym class. But it’s also a great way to make sure kids are getting in the one hour of physical activity recommended per day.

Level up

What kid doesn’t dream of becoming a ninja? Now they can train like one! There are so many amazing ways for children of all ages to design their own obstacle or ninja course. Not only is it an entertaining way to keep them busy but it also helps them to problem-solve and it reinforces skills as they master one part of the course so that they can move on to the next. Change up the activities to keep it new and exciting; add a rope ladder to a swing set or climbers to a tree. You can also adapt the challenges based on kids’ ages and abilities.
Classroom connection: Kids can engage with science and technology as they design, build and maintain challenging structures; they’ll need to think critically and problem-solve each part of the course.

Family faves

These toys will have your brood begging for “just five more minutes” out in the glorious sunshine.

Photos of three Mastermind toys

Little ones will love monkeying around on this solid climbing structure, hiding out in the fort or standing guard at the tower’s top. Eezy Peezy Jungle Gym, $220, mastermindtoys.com

Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, this set will allow you to create a challenging course to test your skills. Slackers Ninjaline Intro Kit With Seven Hanging Obstacles, $130, mastermindtoys.com

Don’t cry over spilled bubbles; this clever container can tip, drop or fall while the solution stays in. Fubbles No-Spill Mini Bubble Tumbler,  $5, mastermindtoys.com

A version of this article appeared in our April/May 2021 issue, titled “Outdoor play,” pg. 26-27.