3 big reasons why children need to play outdoors

Posted by / Tuesday 14 March 2017 / Activities Health Parenting Tips

Unfortunately, the days when children played outside until dusk are now gone but playing outdoors makes for happier and healthier children. Many studies highlight the benefits children get from time spent having fun in the fresh air. 


Surveys of children show many would prefer to spend time outside if only they could. But parents tell us about their fears for their children’s safety.

These include busier streets and hearing more about crimes against children. Understandably, parents are more reluctant to allow children outdoors. Screens and computer games also take the blame for children becoming sedentary.


But it’s essential that we overcome all these barriers wherever we can and encourage our children to spend time playing outside every day. Even if it means braving the cold and going out there with them!

Having outdoor adventures is a wonderful way to bond with our children, and it’s good for them in so many ways. Here’s why:


The freedom to play in the fresh air, running free and just “be a kid”, away from the confines of four walls, is important to them. When playing outdoors, there are fewer rules.

Outdoor play allows children’s bodies to produce vitamin D from its best natural source, the sunlight. Vitamin D enhances mood by helping to release serotonin in the brain.

Children need healthy levels of serotonin for good mental health and development.



"Encourage your children to play outdoors, even if only for 15 minutes, so they’re exposed to vitamin D."

Pentagon Play
Group playing football

Playing outdoors in a natural environment is thought to help relieve stress by reducing levels of cortisol, a “stress hormone”, in the brain.

Children are frequently exposed to stressful environments such as busy, noisy urban areas, flashing screens and pressured classrooms, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

Playing outdoors offers some escape from this.

With improved wellbeing comes self-confidence. From having the freedom, time and space to learn, grow and develop independence. When playing outdoors, children discover nature and how the world works for themselves.

They’ll naturally play with peers and learn how to interact with others. They may fall, have bumps and scrapes, but they’ll learn to pick themselves up and learn from their own mistakes.

These are all good life skills that will see them well into adulthood.

Things to try outside


Obese children have an increased risk of developing health problems. They’re also more likely to become obese adults. The UK has the highest level of childhood obesity in Western Europe.

Regular exercise is an essential part of keeping fit, maintaining a healthy weight and combatting obesity. There are no two ways about it, children need to get outside and move their bodies on a regular basis. Getting children outdoors and moving can help solve the problem of obesity.

"The more your child moves, the more energy they use and the more calories they burn. Take heart, it’s easier than it sounds! Children love to play so send them outside and let them go for it!"

Pentagon Play

Outdoor play – running, climbing, skipping, jumping, kicking a ball, whatever they prefer to do – is all a fantastic way of exercising their bodies. It’s really good for their overall physical development too.

Anything that requires children to move and stretch their bodies,

  • helps to strengthen muscles,
  • refines their balance and motor skills,
  • promotes good overall physical health and development

Try a family sports day

3: Improved Sleep

Regular exercise in the fresh air is linked to better sleep patterns.


Active outdoor play is a great way of allowing children to have fun exercising. This helps children get the good quality rest and recuperation they need every night.

Regular bursts of outdoor play throughout the day means they will be more ready to settle down when it’s time to turn to out the lights. Your child will wake up refreshed, switched on and ready to face a new day.

As you can see, outdoor play still has a vital role to play in child development, especially during this new age of technology.

This post has been written by Pentagon Play who have been designing outdoor learning environments for schools since 1998. Find out more about the importance of outdoor play and education on their website.

More to explore


More parenting blogs

Whether it's your child's development, behaviour or emotional wellbeing our experts have advice for every dilemma.

Parenting advice

About Action for Children

From before they are born until they are into their twenties, we help children across the UK.

Our mission
Staff at Cape Hill children's centre

Support near you

We've many different services in the UK where you can get help. You can drop into one of our children & family centres.

Find out more