The importance of outdoor play for children’s mental health

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Children in modern day society are exposed to stressful environments, pressurised tests from the early age of 6 and a vast range of new and exciting technologies; it is no surprise that negative statistics about children’s mental health are increasing year on year.

The outdoors is where children can fully be themselves. With fewer restrictions, there is something about the outdoors that is exciting and exhilarating for them and creates a form of escapism.

This feeling of freedom in open space brings with it a sense of happiness and well-being that is hard to beat.

Healthier and happier minds

Whether it’s watching television or playing with their latest gadget, children are spending less time outdoors than ever before.

Without regular exposure outside, children are struggling to keep engaged during school especially when they are expected to absorb so much information for regular tests and assessments. 

Spending time walking, running, jumping, climbing or simply connecting with nature outside will bring endless benefits to children’s overall well-being.

A study by Open University’s OPENspace Research Centre found that outdoor play increases life expectancy, improves well-being and reduces the symptoms of mental health problems. Further findings from the study included higher concentration levels and an improvement in children’s ability to function during school.

Vitamin D levels

The outdoors provides natural sunlight, helping children produce Vitamin D which releases serotonin into the body.

Due to the fact that Vitamin D is not found in many foods, children need sunlight exposure to give themselves a greater chance of responding to negative emotions and self-destructive behaviour.

With demanding routines, school and homework, children are always learning new information that they are expected to absorb daily.

Allowing children to play freely outdoors will remove them from any stressful environment and give their minds a break from their hectic routines.

Using this approach will result in children feeling balanced, refreshed and ready to learn rather than drained, unhappy and fed up from an overloading of information.

Why sleep is important

Sleep directly impacts a child’s mental health as they need to give their brains a rest to recover and process all the information they have learned during the day.

Outdoor play improves a child’s sleep as physical activity releases endorphins and helps produce melatonin which makes children feel sleepy. Sleep-deprived children are often less active and irritable which impacts their mood and mental wellbeing.

During a recent study within the UK, it was discovered that just five minutes of physical activity in a natural outdoor environment can rapidly improve a child’s self-esteem, mental health and wellbeing… it’s time for children to embrace the outdoors.

This article has been written by Pentagon Play who design and install outdoor learning environments for schools across the UK.

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