The Benefits of Outdoor Play
By Kathleen Alfano
Playing outdoors is a form of exercise that promotes well-being and wholesome physical development. Children are naturally drawn to active play outdoors: it allows them to explore their environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, and gain self-confidence. Playing actively outdoors also increases flexibility, fine and gross motor skills and is related to the development of a wide variety of physical skills, including those involved in sports.

Children have a great need for physical exercise and activity and a chance to use their muscles to run, swing, jump, skate and ride a bike, and to be out in the fresh air and sunshine (appropriately protected from the sun's rays, of course). They like to use their whole body when they play outdoors, and find such physical activities interesting and challenging.

When children are pushed in a swing, or when they propel a swing themselves, they engage all of their muscles to hold on, balance and coordinate their body to the rhythm of moving back and forth. Swinging provides children with first-hand knowledge and experience of cause and effect and of understanding spatial learning, such as up and down and back and forth. Also, while swinging, children get a chance to see the world from a new perspective. To provide comfort and security, use a swing with a back support and a child restraint. For the littlest ones, start out slowly and push from the front, so your face is in full view. Play a peek-a-boo game for even more fun!

Toys that require balance and coordination, such as skates, scooters and bikes, teach children new skills, encourage the development of self-confidence and satisfy their interest in exploration. Choose sports equipment that has a grow-with-me feature, going from beginner to advanced, so children have the opportunity to master skills at their own pace. The beginner mode will give children that extra boost of confidence they need when learning a new skill. As children progress to the advanced mode, they can practice their newly acquired skills and try new and exciting challenges when they're ready.

So, take the children outside to play. It's a wonderful way to spend the day!