No matter what the weather brings, playing outside is good for kids. There is scientific evidence that playing outdoors can improve health, and children of all ages love it.
“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, outdoor time and nature exploration are safe for most kids,” said Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP. “And we know that the more time a child spends in nature, the more likely they are to grow up to be good stewards of our planet—an environmental win!”
Kids to Parks Day is a national day of outdoor play celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May, which falls on May 21 this year. Families don't necessarily need to travel far to enjoy nature. Families can connect with nature in a school playground, backyard, table-top garden, or even virtually (though without all the benefits). Find out what parks are nearby based on zip code, and if you can get to them by walking or taking public transportation. Many public green spaces have features and programs for all ages and abilities.
Tips for babies and toddlers:
For older children and teens
Getting outside provides more than a fun break for children and teenagers. It is also good for their physical and mental health and development.
Children play harder outdoors than indoors and they need daily opportunities to do so. More outdoor time is linked with improved motor development and lower obesity rates and myopia (nearsightedness) risk. Safely getting some sun also helps us make vitamin D that our bodies need to stay healthy and strong.
Playing outside promotes curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. Studies have found that children who spent more time in nature exploration had improved learning outcomes.
Research also shows that when children spent time in natural settings they had less anger and aggression. Impulse control is also better. This might be especially important when normal routines change for children. Stress and depression are lower for people who spend time in nature. Children can also show increased focus and reduced symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“Take advantage of the power of playing in nature—near your home or neighborhood, or wherever you feel comfortable,” said Pooja Tandon, MD, FAAP. “Remember to dress appropriately for the weather. It's also a good idea to wash hands or use hand sanitizer during and after your adventure.”
Finally, ask community leaders to ensure all kids have safe places to play outside. Getting outdoors, being in nature, and moving our bodies is good for everyone!
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.