Playing outdoors is fun and important for children’s development and growth. Children use their senses to interpret the world around them. While outdoors, children are exposed to a calm and sensory-rich environment. Playing outdoors provides many benefits to children, including directly impacting the development of both fine and gross motor skills. Plus, outdoor play offers opportunities for much needed breaks from screens and blue light exposure—from computers, cell phones, pads/tablets and television.
“Hands-on play in the natural environment stimulate children’s senses through what they hear, touch, see and feel,” says Stacy Ringold, occupational therapist at Kinera Foundation, a local nonprofit in Queen Anne’s County that serves families with children who have disabilities and special needs. “By touching materials in nature, such as grass, leaves, sand and water, children enhance their tactile experiences. And, playing outdoors can help children feel calm and less overwhelmed, which may help with focus in the classroom school setting.”
According to the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE), a child who plays and takes breaks outside is more likely to feel happy and less anxious, depressed and stressed. This correlates to students who have increased focus and less behavior problems in the classroom, and may help children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates from 2016 show that approximately 9.4% of children between 2-17 years of age were diagnosed with ADHD. Current treatments for ADHD include pharmacological and behavioral interventions, such as stimulant medications and therapies that address problem behaviors. Data from studies in 2011 show that participation in activities in open, outdoor environments can improve symptoms of ADHD, and positively impact a child’s memory, critical thinking skills and ability to learn.
“Outdoor play offers many cognitive benefits,” explained Ringold. “When children use their whole body by climbing, jumping and running they develop gross motor skills, build their strength, and increase balance and coordination. And when children explore nature by picking up flowers and rocks, they are helping to develop their fine motor skills—all of which impacts the ability of how they process and remember information.”
Playing outdoors provides so many benefits for children—from decreasing stress, increasing focus, to developing fine and gross motor skills, just to offer a few! Time spent outdoors encourages a healthy lifestyle, helping children form healthy habits for a lifetime. So, what are you waiting for? Go out and play!
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The Kinera Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to enhancing the quality of life for children, teens and adults with special needs and their families by providing parent support groups, social activities and events, access to therapies and treatments, while continuing to support inclusive and community programs. The Kinera Foundation Eastern Shore Regional Hub, with partners that include the Office of Genetics and People with Special Health Care Needs and Kennedy Krieger’s Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities, provides a centralized, coordinated Hub of patient/family centered care. The Hub brings together providers, therapists, families and supporting agencies to ensure Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) have access to the level of care, services and resources they need. For more information visit www.kinera.org.