catholic homeschool school kids playing

Why Outdoor Play is Essential: Boost Focus and Development

Let Your Kids Get Outside and Play This Summer

It is summer, the time when children traditionally head outside to play, at least depending on where you live. My Florida children may spend a little more time indoors with the heat!

As an adult, summer brings up many great memories from my childhood, such as swimming, playing outdoors, visiting my grandparents, and many more. However, research tells us that children today are not likely to make the same memories. Children today play outside an average of four to seven minutes a day. Read that again. Wow. Most estimates are that kids today spend at least 35% less time outside than when we did as kids. (Marshall, 2020). That raises the question of why this is happening and, more importantly, if this is a problem.

Reasons for Decline in Outdoor Play

First, I don’t have to explain the why to anyone. Kids today have so many more things vying for their attention. Technology (particularly screens) has almost destroyed all play, and not just outdoor play. I could go into more detail, but that is a topic for another blog post. The second issue is we often overschedule our kids today. Kids today have far less free time than most of us did as children. Once again, a topic for another post. Finally, our culture today doesn’t promote outdoor unstructured play as necessary.

The Problem with Less Outdoor Play

Is this decline in outdoor play a problem? Absolutely. Outdoor play, especially nature play, is a cornerstone of healthy childhood development. It fosters physical activity, cognitive and social skills, and mental health (Dankiw, et al., 2020). Access to green spaces has been linked to improved overall well-being in children, including reduced emotional symptoms and behavioral issues (McCormick, 2017). As parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure our children have these opportunities.

Benefits of Outdoor Play for Focus and Attention

Another benefit for homeschooling parents is that it will help your children focus! Researchers found preschoolers who engaged in physical play outside were more likely to focus and stay on task after playing. This was especially true for boys. (Lundy & Trawick-Smith, 2020). Some studies have even found that time spent outdoors reduces inattention for children diagnosed with ADHD (McCormick, 2017). Now, I’m not saying that time spent outdoors will solve all your parenting problems and make your children into attentive cherubs. Still, the research shows that it definitely can have a substantial impact on our children.

Encouraging Outdoor Play

Knowing this information, what should we do as parents? First, we need to encourage our kids to get outside. If your kids aren’t used to a lot of outdoor play, you may need to help them get started. A great way to get outdoor play time is to check out your local parks and playgrounds. Community pools or splash pads are another idea when it is hot. Search community pages or groups for recommendations for the best parks for your children’s ages.

If you play in your backyard, you may consider having a swing set or playhouse. These don’t need to be expensive—many affordable options exist today. Even a large cardboard box can encourage a lot of outdoor creative play! Water is fun, too: a water table, kiddie pool, or inflatable water slide will encourage your kids to go outside even in the heat.

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of dirt and sand as play materials. Most young children will play with dirt or sand and buckets and scoops for a long time. Bonus points if you let them have water and get really dirty! If you don’t want your children digging holes in your yard, you could get a sandbox or kiddie pool and add dirt or sand to attempt to keep the mess—I mean fun—contained.

If needed, you can give your children some ideas. How about setting up an outdoor restaurant or store? I realized today that the flowers my husband gave me last week were past their prime, and instead of throwing them in the trash like usual, I gave them to my six- and three-year-olds. I told them they had to take them outside, and they proceeded to play flower shop outside, gathering other sticks and leaves in our yard. This encouraged not only outdoor play but also creative skills, imagination, and social skills. Not bad for flowers that were destined for the trash!

Benefits for Older Kids and Boys

Before I end this post, I want to comment on the benefits of outdoor play for older kids and boys.

In today’s society, we overlook the importance of play in older children, especially past the elementary years. It is just as important that our middle school kids, and even high schoolers, get to play. The play will look a little different. Your 7th grader probably won’t be making mud pies, well, maybe with their little siblings. However, getting outside and playing is just as important. Older kids will be more likely to climb trees, build forts, and play organized games. My middle schoolers often get a pick-up game of soccer, baseball, nerf gun wars, tag, or capture the flag going outside with their friends. Parents can join in too. One of our favorites is hide and seek in the dark, where the kids hide and the parents have to find them. Have you ever tried to find a twelve-year-old atop a tree in the dark? It is pretty tough!

Now, let’s briefly mention outdoor play for boys. Our culture often underemphasizes gender differences. But there are differences between boys and girls. Boys have more androgens (male hormones), and those androgens make them more likely to engage in physical and rough-and-tumble play. Boys take more risks and often want to play rough with each other. That is normal and okay. We should let our boys play rough with appropriate boundaries. The studies I mentioned earlier all said that outdoor play had a more substantial effect on helping boys pay attention, so engaging in outdoor play may have even more significant benefits for our boys.


Let your kids get outside and play this summer. Enjoy God’s creation and enjoy outdoor play’s benefits for our children and families.

What are your thoughts on this topic? To continue the discussion, join me and other homeschooling parents at our Homeschool Connections Community or our Facebook group!

Works Cited

Dankiw, K. A., Tsiros, M. D., Baldock, K. L., Kumar, S. (2020) The impacts of unstructured nature play on health in early childhood development: A systematic review. PLOS ONE 15(2),  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229006

Lundy, A., Trawick-Smith, J. (2021). Effects of active outdoor play on preschool children’s on-task classroom behavior. Early Childhood Educ Journal, 49, 463–471. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01086-w

McCormick, R. (2017). Does access to green space impact the mental well-being of children: A systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 37, 3-7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2017.08.027

Marshall, L. (2020, February 4). Why your kids should spend time outdoors. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/kids-spend-time-outdoors

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