Why outdoor play is good for you AND your family

"When you take children outside, they’re exposed to all the natural elements: weather, noise, social interaction. They can learn a lot outdoors that they can’t indoors.” Dr Barbara Chancellor


In 2005, American author and family, nature and community-focused futurist Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’. Here in Australia, Griffin Longley, CEO of Nature Play WA, revealed that our children now spend less than two hours outdoors each day. This represents a major shift from previous generations, when time spent riding bikes or playing in the park was the norm. Now, factors such as television and computer games, and heightened awareness of ‘stranger danger’, contribute to the extra hours spent inside.

Such behavior denies children an important part of their education, says Dr Barbara Chancellor, a play researcher and board member at Play Australia. “The sorts of activities that children can do outdoors— and the types of learning that occur— are different to things they can engage in indoors,” she says. “When you take children outside, they’re exposed to all the natural elements: weather, noise, social interaction. They can learn a lot outdoors that they can’t indoors.”

Plentiful research has been undertaken over the years into the health implications of outdoor play. A 2010 study, for example, conducted by Deakin University for national depression initiative beyondblue, explored the connection between wellbeing and contact with nature. It found that children who spend time in green spaces enjoy long-term benefits to their physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. It also found that outdoor play can help foster a sense of identity, feelings of autonomy and psychological resilience—plus it can improve feelings of self-worth. 

Good for the soul…

Dr Chancellor adds that time spent outdoors is also good for the soul. “Digging in the garden, walking in the park or playing with the children—it all has a rejuvenating quality,” she says. “It has a really big impact on the health and wellbeing of people of all ages.”