Playing outdoors is the most basic form of enjoyment for a child. Sure, there’s all kinds of evidence that outdoor play helps your child develop coordination and social skills. Outdoor play teaches young children about cause and effect, about who they are and who they could be, and about the physical world as a place through which they can move. Children sleep much better after a full day of rigorous play. Relationships with other children and with adults are explored in ways that cannot happen in non-play environments. Parents and children can bond with each other. But the reason children like to play outdoors is simply that it is a lot of fun to do.
Traditional outdoor toys never go out of fashion. Balls of all sizes, hoops and jump ropes have all been enjoyed by children throughout the ages. Throw in the technology from the last century or two, and you’ve got the yo-yo and its grandchild, Astrojax, you’ve got the plastic throwing disc best known as the Frisbee and you’ve got those descendants of the 1960s hacky sack, the foot sack and the Myachi for hand play.
The physical development that play brings about in a child is obvious. It takes a lot of energy to throw, catch, jump, run, skip and kick — the sheer variety of all these physical moves builds a child’s muscles in every way. Balance and coordination improve. Children learn that they can learn new things; they learn that they are not limited to what they already know. It doesn’t matter what level of ability your child starts any of these outdoor play activities, because the whole point is to learn something new and have fun while learning.
A lawn or yard is the obvious place for a child to play outdoors. But structures meant for play can also be added. We’re talking everything from playhouses to swing sets to bouncy houses. Then there’s the apparatus for play: a table tennis table, a serpentine slide, even a swimming pool. Think of all the inflatables and water-based toys possible with a pool — and it doesn’t even matter if you get wet.
Garden games are the perfect way to combine a child’s play with an adult’s participation. There are tossing games, accuracy games and games that involve balls, all with simple rules. Croquet is the one game that comes instantly to mind, badminton is another.
Sports might be considered the ultimate outdoor play experience. A child learns the basic skills and rules and then has to go further, learning teamwork and cooperation at the same time they’re absorbing the concepts of competition and sportsmanship. The practice apparatus for honing technical skills for any sport can be adapted for a child. And the sport does not have to played as a full-fledged competition — a game of seeing who can kick the ball into the net from the furthest distance can be just as much fun as a football match with teams, offside rules and refs.
So, get your child away from those video games and the television screen and introduce them to the fun of playing outdoors under the sun.