The Surprising Benefits of Playing Outside

Jan Lashbrook
I recently attended a workshop for directors of early childhood programs. The instructor asked us all to take a minute and write down as many favorite childhood memories as we could think of — one memory per sticky note. We then categorized each sticky note into two groups: indoor activities and outdoor activities. What we saw surprised us.

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” —Psalm 145:4 (NIV)

We were amazed that hands down, the memories playing outside with our imaginations and friends outweighed the indoor activities (at about 4:1). The instructor shared that for the first time in the history of the world, more children are now playing alone indoors rather than outside with friends, because of the dynamics of our generation.

Meryl Landau, author of Enlightened Parenting notes, “Movement through active free play, especially outside, improves everything from creativity to academic success to emotional stability. Kids who don’t get to do this can have so many issues; from problems with emotional regulation (they cry at the drop of a hat) to difficulty holding a pencil, to touching other kids using too much force.”

We adults don’t always reserve much room in our busy lives for fun and games anymore. Our days are filled with stress, obligations, and hard work. But without realizing it, we are more disconnected from our kids than ever. We can help combat this trend and give our children some valuable outdoor time with a little intentional planning.
The work will still be there years later; our children won’t.
Many indoor activities and games can be taken outside . . .
  • An art easel can be constructed with plexiglass and mounted to a fence, easy to rinse off with the hose each time it’s used.
  • Legos and other plastic toys can go outside for building in a kiddie pool or on a raft in the big pool.
  • There are some fun tents constructed with strips of cloth and hula hoops that your child can help make.
  • Check out Pinterest for even more ideas.
  • Take books outside in a wagon for your child to read with friends.
The average playground will only hold a child’s attention for about 20 minutes, but outdoor dramatic play using imagination and a few open-ended “tools” found in nature is a very sensory–rich, and language–rich form of play that will keep children occupied for hours.

I love this observation from a favorite blog: Children don’t ever say, “I’ve had a hard day . . . can we talk?” They do say, “Will you play with me?” Play is the work of a child, and to connect with our kids, we MUST play with our kids. Taking the time to put down our devices to play with our kids is critical. The work will still be there years later; our children won’t. (via
“Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” —Proverbs 24:3


Jan Lashbrook is the Early Childhood Director at Calvary Christian Academy. She and her husband are “ empty-nesters,” having raised three children who are all grown and married. Their youngest attended CCA for 12 years, graduating in 2016.
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