Children’s Mental Health Week was launched back in 2015 and was set up to raise awareness of childhood mental health. The week encourages young children to reflect on mental health and talk about how it affects them and those around them.
Each year has a theme and this year’s is bravery. This theme is designed to encourage children to think critically about how they see bravery and what it means to them, whether it’s a feat of heroism or talking openly about their feelings.
There are lots of things that you can do to give your mental health a boost. And seeing as it’s our business to know as much as possible about the outdoors, and how to make it a fun and interesting place for children, we thought we’d investigate the mental health benefits of playing outdoors.
Keep reading to learn how to make the most of outdoor play and why it’s important for your wellbeing.
What is outdoor play?
It might sound like an obvious question, but outdoor play is a lot more than simply playing outside. Outdoor play tends to centre around physical activity and motivate young children to run, skip and jump themselves fit. Playing without the restriction of four walls also gives children the freedom to explore the world around them and use their imagination in a variety of different settings.
The importance of fitness
Being physically fit when you’re young is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, exercise trains the lungs, strengthens bones and muscles, and prevents children from developing weight-related health issues like diabetes. Second is mental health. Every time a child skips a rope or races across a playground, their body produces powerful happiness-inducing hormones that keep feelings of anxiety and depression at bay. Getting your heart rate up also stimulates the production of neurohormones that help children think more clearly and recover from stress.
Other benefits of outdoor play
Teaching about risk
One of the biggest differences between indoor and outdoor play is its ability to inspire children to try new things and push their boundaries. Outdoor equipment is often more daunting than the toys you find at home or in the classroom, and this can teach important lessons about risk. For example, a child is much more likely to learn about the limitations of their own body from a tall slide or climbing frame than sitting at home playing video games.
Children who play outdoors typically play away from direct adult supervision, and this is beneficial because it can build a child’s sense of independence and make them feel more confident. Self-esteem is usually a good indication of how well a child will cope with stress and emotional difficulties later on in life. So it’s important to lay the foundations of a strong sense of self-worth early on to help them bounce back from life’s challenges.
Children love to socialise. It helps them feel more connected with those around them and teaches them valuable lessons about how others see the world. Being outdoors is less intimidating than sitting in a stuffy, old classroom and gives children more space, making it easier for them to come out of their shells.
Being cooped up indoors isn’t a lot of fun for children. They need to expel the boundless reserves of energy their young bodies build up during the day and the chance to stretch their legs and have some fun. Exposure to natural light also increases serotonin levels and encourages the production vitamin D, an essential nutrient for absorbing calcium and building healthy bones.
How to encourage outdoor play
Children spend half as much time outside than their parents did when they were young. There are lots of reasons for this, including greater internet access and a loss of outdoor spaces. But one of the main causes is parental anxiety. If you find it hard to let your child play outside, here are a few tips for taking the stress out of outdoor play and encouraging children to get outside:
- If you’re afraid of letting your child play unsupervised, checking on them regularly and then slowly increasing the amount of time you leave in between checks will help you get to grips with letting them play independently and give them the space they need to explore, socialise and build confidence.
- Parks are perfect for getting used to outdoor play: they’re outside, have lots of extra safe playground equipment and are usually fenced in so you can oversee everything without feeling overbearing.
- Water play is a great sensory activity that encourages creativity and prepares children for scientific learning. Buy your child a water play centre or take them to the seaside with a bucket and spade for some exciting outdoor play and hours of brain-boosting fun.