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Posted Monday April, 12th 2021

The Benefits of Playing Outside

Screen Shot 2021 04 12 at 8 47 04 PM

When I was a kid, my parents constantly told me to go play outside. I lived in a town where kids knocked on each other’s doors to ask if their friends could “come out and play,” rode their bikes in the street, and sat on their front steps together to eat ice cream cones after dinner in the summertime. When I was a kid, kids spent a lot of time playing outside.

But things have changed significantly for kids in the past 30-40 years. Playtime is on the decline, especially outdoor play. Between the years of 1981 and 1997, research suggests, unstructured playtime dropped by about 25 percent (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001), and a more recent survey of nearly 9,000 families with preschool-aged children in the United States indicated that about half do not go outside to play regularly (Tandon, Zhou, & Christakis, 2012).

This decline seems to be happening for a number of reasons. Children are spending more time in structured activities in schools and daycares (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001), and as a result, recess time is decreasing. In fact, a survey of U.S. schools suggests that only 40 percent of schools have a designated policy for outdoor play (Burriss & Burriss, 2011). On top of that, parents are working more, leaving less time to monitor their kids when they are playing outside. And children are spending more time on screens, often saying that they prefer electronic games to playing outside (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011).

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