Why outdoor play is important
Playing outside gives your child the chance to explore the natural environment and have adventures. Your child can play games, test their physical limits, express themselves and build their self-confidence.
Outdoor play can also mean more mess – and more mess often means more fun!
When your child is outside, they probably have more space and freedom for big movements like running, jumping, kicking and throwing. Physical activities like these are good for your child’s fitness and physical development.
Spending time outdoors might lower your child’s chances of developing short-sightedness. Also, some safe play in the sun can be good too – small amounts of sunlight exposure can help boost vitamin D levels.
Playing outside and being in natural environments can also help children relax and feel calm. This means outdoor play can be good for your child’s mental health and wellbeing too.
Getting your child into outdoor play: ideas
It’s a good idea to encourage your child to play outside several times a day.
If you have an outdoor space at home, that’s great. Sometimes, all you need to do is send your child out the door and let them come up with their own games. Just remember that when younger children are playing outside, they need your help to stay safe around outdoor hazards.
Many younger children love to ‘help’. This means that outdoor play can include working with your child on everyday tasks like weeding, sweeping the driveway, watering vegetables or hanging clothes on the line.
Making time to visit your local park, oval or playground is a low-cost and easy option, especially if you don’t have a yard. Your child will probably have even more room to run around there and might meet other children to play with.
If you can walk to the park, you can also teach your child about road and pedestrian safety on the way. Even younger children can get out of the stroller and walk for a little while. Walking together shows that you value and enjoy outdoor activity too. Other outdoor, active transport activities include riding bikes or scooters.
As your child gets older, you could encourage them to try a structured outdoor activity like junior sport.
Outdoor play for different ages
Outdoor play helps babies learn about different surroundings and feel more comfortable with the world around them. Some ideas for outdoor play with your baby include:
- enjoying tummy time on a blanket, towel or picnic rug
- crawling on grass, under outdoor furniture or through old boxes
- watching tree leaves and branches move and listening to birds
- looking at different coloured cars, street signs or traffic light signals.
Toddlers are keen to explore the world around them and test out their growing physical skills. Outdoor play for your toddler might include:
- throwing and chasing balls
- wheeling, pushing or pulling different toys and objects
- walking, running or jumping around trees, over stones or cracks in the footpath, into puddles or towards favourite objects
- blowing bubbles and chasing them as they float away
- playing in sand, mud or small amounts of water – but always supervise water play to prevent drowning accidents.
Preschoolers are learning to play with other children. They also like make-believe. You can help your child make the most of this stage with outdoor play ideas like:
- playing games of chasey, hide-and-seek or kick-to-kick
- crawling through tunnels or climbing over fallen trees
- moving in different ways with colourful leaves, flowers, scarves or streamers
- making mud pies with dirt and old cooking utensils
- going on a nature walk together and naming all of the different sounds you hear
- looking for birds, insects and new plants, and trying to name them
- building a cubbyhouse out of boxes, clothes baskets or outdoor play equipment or furniture.
Your school-age child is becoming more involved in structured play like sport, but it’s still important to make time for free play outside. At this age, children still enjoy:
- building and creating with equipment, furniture or other things they find outside
- playing tiggy, chasey or tag
- climbing trees.
Outdoor play when it’s cold and wet
You and your child can play outside even in cold or wet weather. In fact, this kind of weather can fire up your child’s imagination and creativity.
If you’re heading outside, you can put on coats, hats and gloves. If it’s wet, dress up in gumboots and raincoats. An umbrella can be fun to take along too. Your child might have fun opening and closing it a few times.
Here are outdoor ideas for cold or wet weather:
- Show your child what the beach looks like in wild weather, or visit parks and gardens when the plants are all wet and glossy.
- Look for some big puddles to jump in.
- If it’s darker, let your child play with a torch when you go out for a walk.
- Gather leaves, sticks, shells and stones from outside. You can take them inside and use them for sorting, painting or building.
- On a windy day, you can try flying kites, chasing leaves – or helping them ‘fly’ – and trying to find places to hide from the wind outside.
Bumps and bruises when playing outside
It’s natural to worry that your child could get hurt when playing outside. And sometimes your child might be worried about trying something new. These are natural worries, but they shouldn’t keep your child from playing outside.
It’s OK for your child to push the play boundaries outside, where they have room to run faster, climb higher and jump further.
It might mean some tears, a scrape or a fall, but ‘risky play’ helps your child learn from mistakes and bounce back.
Children who have been kept away from these outdoor experiences are more likely to get seriously hurt when they have outdoor experiences.