Playing Outside Helps Kids' Mental Health

by Della H. Harris

Get outdoorsThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children play outdoors every day. Children who play outside are more likely to be physically active. Being active from a young age sets a healthy trajectory for an active adult life. If an active adult, the chances of developing conditions like diabetes go down significantly.

"Physical activity through play is essential for preschoolers' growth and development," says Dr. Pooja Tandon, acting assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. "Outdoor play is also beneficial for motor development, vision, cognition, Vitamin D levels and mental health," she adds.

Now that we can see how important that time in the sun can be for a child's physical and mental well-being, you might wonder how you can better encourage your kids to play outside.

We suggest trying these fun and easy activities. They'll help get them out the house and enjoying the outdoors right in your own neighborhood. The best part about these suggestions are they don't require a lot of time or expense on your part.

Walking the dog. While you're out, encourage your child to look for tracks. Was it a bear track or tiger track? Here's an opportunity for pretend time and discovery.

Taking a hike. Read "Winnie the Pooh" and then head out on a long explore. Could that log just over the hill be a canoe or a rocket ship? Why not!

Play "Simon Says." Feel free to adapt the leader's name to match a holiday or celebration.

Take a flashlight walk. Don't let darkness or weather deter you from getting outside with your kids. Take a flashlight walk or a rainy day hike and invite your friends!

Jump rope. Here's your chance to shine! Share those jump rope rhymes from back when you were a kid. We know you remember them.

Play marshmallow paintball tag. Each team begins with a bag of marshmallows and a container of colored goo -- the yellow team might have mustard and the red team ketchup for instance. Set boundaries and a time limit. You'll definitely want to wear clothes you don't "care about."

Kick around a soccer ball. For an extra challenge, set up cones and shoot between them. See who can get past the goalie. Don't like soccer? How about a game of H-O-R-S-E on the basketball court? Have the kids help make the rules.

Dig in the dirt. Loosen a square of dirt and turn your child loose with a couple containers and a spoon or trowel. Turn on a sprinkler for some muddy fun! Why not create a kids' garden in the process?

Sing and dance. Bring some music outdoors and have a freeze dance contest. It's a lot like musical chairs except you're dancing and freeze when the music stops. See who lasts the longest!

Wash the car together. On a warm day, enjoy playing in the water. The car might even be cleaner when you're finished.

Bring out the sidewalk chalk and decorate the driveway. Draw pictures or set up a hopscotch board and try it out.

Do you have a favorite activity that motivates you and your child out the door? Share it with us!

Medical references:
- Tandon, P. (April 2012) "Frequency of Parent-Supervised Outdoor Play of US Preschool-Aged Children." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Apr 2012.