The health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor play
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The health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor play

07 May 2021 By Nicola Parker, Category Buyer for Early Years at YPO

children playing

Whilst most of us are familiar with the learning opportunities that spending time outside can provide in early years, it is also important to recognise and appreciate the positive impact spending time outdoors will have on a child’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

At a time when mental health issues amongst children are significantly increasing, one of the positives we can take from the past twelve months is that there is now a greater focus on being outside than ever before.

So why is being outside so good for children’s health and wellbeing? Below are just some of the benefits associated with spending time in the great outdoors:

Provides a break from the everyday

Time spent in nature provides children with the opportunity to switch off and give their brains a well-earned respite from the demands of every-day life. Allowing children time to play will help them burn off energy and improve their overall ability to focus and concentrate. The outdoors presents them with a different and exciting environment where they can have fun, letting their imaginations run wild, and offering an escape from reality.

It tops up their vitamin D

This important vitamin is crucial for a healthy body and mind and one of the best natural sources is the sun. Vitamin D increases the production of serotonin, which is essential for stabilising our mood and is linked to positive feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin also affects our brains and nervous system, aiding cognitive development and improving memory and concentration.

Lowers anxiety and stress

As well encouraging an active lifestyle, exercise releases chemicals that help us to regulate our mental health. Participation in just ten minutes of physical activity can have a significant impact on the psychological and emotional wellbeing of children by boosting self-esteem, lowering anxiety, and reducing stress levels. The outdoor environment is the perfect place to encourage and engage children in physical activity. Providing a range of different equipment and making it easily accessible will facilitate physical activity and the benefits it brings whilst improving physical development too. 

Helps support emotional and social development

Playing outside offers children a chance to explore and process emotions and feelings in a situation that they can control. The increased space also lends itself well to group activities which provide opportunities to practice empathy and develop an understanding of others. Using resources like these Jumbo Emotions Stones, which are suitable for use in mud, sand or water can be good for starting conversations and help children express and identify their own emotions and those of others.

Can calm and sooth

Having an area in your outside space that allows children to connect with nature and explore different types of plants can often have a soothing and calming effect on children. Creating a sensory garden area featuring plants known for their calming properties such as lavender or rosemary will provide a quiet and safe space for them to take time out to process how they are feeling – you could even use child safe gardening tools and equipment to get them engaged and involved in the process.


Looking to embrace the outdoors in your setting? We have everything you need from mud kitchens to storage sheds – click here to browse our outdoor learning products.

Or maybe you’re looking for mental wellbeing and mindfulness resources for little learners? We’ve picked our best products from our early years range – click here to browse. 

Categories: Early Years

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