As parents and teachers intuitively we know outdoor play is essential for kids. More and more people are pushing for extended recess during the school day. Families are choosing outdoor preschool programs and after school care that involves more outdoor play. Personally in our family I strive to limit structured extracurricular activities so that my kids have ample unstructured time to play outdoors.
Is it because we want our kids to be healthy and develop gross motor skills? Absolutely!
But it’s also so much more than that.
Earlier this month I shared some of our favorite no-prep outdoor activities to do in nature. Today I’m partnering with L.L.Bean again to delve into why outdoor play is so important.
The vital skills kids learn through outdoor play help them not only in childhood but all through their lives. These skills are often referred to as soft skills. In comparison to academic skills, soft skills are characteristics and abilities that cannot be measured in black and white. They develop over time, and they are beneficial in a wide range of areas from social and familial situations to long-term career situations.
Vital Skills Kids Learn Through Outdoor Play
In addition to the many gross motor skills kids learn through outdoor play, there are many soft skills that develop through the course of outdoor play, unstructured outdoor play in particular.
1) A Sense of Wonder and Desire to Investigate: Kids are born with a natural curiosity that many of us as adults are in awe of. Through unstructured outdoor play we can nurture that sense of wonder. And as they play outdoors kids learn that to wonder and investigate can often lead to amazing discoveries—and a lot of fun! Sometimes these investigations can be as simple as, “I wonder how this tree feels.” That’s easy enough to test out!
We can support our kids by engaging in conversations when they say, “What if…” or “I wonder…” When possible help provide an environment or materials that will help them investigate some of the topics they are curious about. Here my oldest is looking for salamanders and other creatures under rotted logs.
Here my youngest wondered whether she could break a rock. So began a discussion about the rock cycle and some serious experimentation to see whether she could indeed break a rock.
2) Teamwork and Negotiation: When playing outdoors, kids in groups are continuously given the opportunity to work on teamwork skills and negotiation. Maybe they’re working out how to move a large rock and decide they’ll need to work together. Or perhaps they’re negotiating about who is going to pick up the salamander they’ve just found. To an observer these discussions can often be overlooked, but if you sit and listen you’ll notice quite a bit of meaningful discussion, planning, cooperation, and compromise naturally occurs through playtime.
3) Risk Taking and Pushing Beyond Limitations: Some kids are natural risk takers. For these kids unstructured outdoor play gives them an outlet to use up some of that desire. For kids who are not natural risk takers outdoor play offers the chance to test out new things at their own pace. I often find kids will push themselves just to their own level of comfort and ability then stop. Each time they get another opportunity they will push themselves a bit beyond where they were before until they have mastered whatever it is they were trying to achieve. By giving kids extended opportunities for outdoor play and in long stretches of time we can support them in learning to take risks.
Many families are seeking out outdoor adventures like the L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Adventures enjoy new experiences together as a family. A little bit of risk with the help of an expert! 😉
But why do we want to encourage our kids to take risks? I know we want our kids to be safe. Often we cringe when they climb a little higher or try to jump off a rock that’s just a bit taller than we’re comfortable with.
As I said before kids often go just to the point of their own comfort and abilities. Learning to take calculated risks in these safe, low-pressure environments under our care will give them the courage they need as they are older and in different situations. That leads to the next two skills kids develop as they play outdoors.
4) Perseverance: A willingness to keep trying and not give up is definitely an asset to kids as they get older. Here again outdoor play gives kids multiple chances and ways to try new things. By giving them a lot of time outdoors they can keep trying until they master a task they’ve been working on.
Here my youngest is practicing skipping rocks. It’s something she loves to do but has had to work on for quite a bit to master. She keeps trying though!
5) Self-Confidence: As kids take risks, keep trying to tackle that task and finally succeed we see their level of pride increasing. We hear, “Mommy!!! I DID IT!” And each time we do our children develop a bit more confidence in their abilities.
6) Relaxation: As adults we often recognize that being outdoors allows us to be in the moment and step away from all the demands of technology and the to-do lists in our lives. Although they may not be able to articulate it at a young age, I think kids feel this ease come over them when they are outdoors too. By setting an example and getting outdoors as a family often we can model that taking time for relaxation is essential for health and a positive mindset. Not sure where to go? L.Bean’s Park Finder map is a great tool for finding local parks in your area or in an area you are going to be visiting soon.
What additional soft skills do you think kids learn through unstructured outdoor play, and how do you support children in getting regular unstructured outdoor play?
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of L.L.Bean, who believe that, on the inside, we’re all outsiders. All opinions are entirely my own.