Why Play Matters

Play is an integral part of the development of young minds. Outdoor play encourages mental, physical, and social development by tapping into a child’s natural curiosity and eagerness to discover and explore. When immersed in an environment that promotes imagination and play through creative thought, children develop fully.




Outdoor playtime has dramatically decreased by 71% in one generation in the United States. Studies have shown that the time children spend outside is short, with the average child spending only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that children should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that 2 to 5 year olds may need two or more hours per day of physical activity.

Kids are deeply involved in the technologically oriented screens and the digital world which has replaced historically vital kid-organized varieties of play. As a result childhood, depression is more prevalent and the obesity epidemic is seen worldwide. According to the Centers for disease control, the percentage of youth who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980.

To combat these issues it is recommended to increase the levels of physical activity and greatly reduce the time children spend in front of technology screens. Outdoor play is the cornerstone of physical activity for kids. As adults, it is vital that we show the value and importance of playtime. Together we can set the tone for future generations to grow up physically and mentally healthy.


Play by Numbers

3-8 hours

The time an average American child now spends in front of a digital screen according to market research firm Childwise.


The percentage of teachers who say kids’ behaviors change positively after recess

The Benefits of Play

Laughter. Running. Jumping. Climbing. Swinging. Sliding. When you think of a playground, you think of a happy, carefree environment. But there’s much more going on than just fun. Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg of the AAP, while testifying before a federal subcommittee, described the importance of outdoor play for children:

“Play in an outdoor, natural environment allows children to explore both their world and their own minds…. places virtually no bounds on the imagination and engages all of the senses. For all children, this setting allows for the full blossoming of creativity, curiosity, and the associated developmental advances.”

Our partner organization IPEMA is the leading resource for research development in the playground industry. They have shared their insights on how children are at their highest level of development when they are at play. Research shows that outdoor free play gives kids many valuable benefits, including the development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills.

Emotional Development

Outdoor play encourages children to develop positive emotional skills that build self-confidence and self-esteem such as risk-analysis, conflict resolution and imaginative dramatic play. During free play, kids can use imaginative or pretend play to experience different feelings or outcomes. Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are able to concentrate better after spending time playing outside, according to Andrea Faber Taylor, University of Illinois, who published in the Journal of Attention disorders in 2009. Time spent outdoors can also help to reduce stress in children according to the National Wildlife Federation comprehensive report Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit through Outdoor Play.

Physical Development

The physical benefits of play influence a child’s ability to learn reflexes and movement control, develop fine and gross motor skills, increase flexibility and balance. Play is an integral part of children learning to crawl, walk, run and jump. Each of these activities leads to improved physical health and fitness. The simple act of self-propelled swinging encompasses a full-body workout, time sequencing and balance.

Cognitive Development

Play helps children develop language and reasoning skills, encourages critical thinking and problem-solving. It also helps their ability to focus and control their behavior. Kaplan’s (1995) Attention Restoration Theory (ART), explains the cognitive benefits nature provides. The theory suggests that nature has the capacity to renew attention after exerting mental energy such as; feeling tired after studying, working tirelessly on a work project or an assessment. Experts from neuroscientists to child development researchers agree that play is essential for brain development.

Social Development

Outdoor play areas may be one of the first social experiences for some children. The development of social skills plays an important role in a child’s maturation process. The valuable lessons they learn on the playground will provide a foundation into socially adjusted, well-adapted adults.


“Play is the highest form of research.”
– Albert Einstein



According to The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development, Authored by Gabriela Bento:

“The environment created outside can offer interesting conditions for children and adults to show different aspects of their personality, which normally do not emerge during the time indoors. Following the findings of Maynard, Waters and Clement, we have realized that outdoor play allows for a deeper knowledge about children, facilitating a more adequate educational intervention from the adult. Likewise, less conflicts occur during outdoor play and children tend to cooperate more with each other.”


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