Perception of play and outdoor play

Play is how children learn. The learning that takes place is holistic, grounded in the environment and everything that surrounds the child; textiles, sights, sounds, smells, conversations, words, information, behaviours and everything else you can imagine. Play is how kids learn skills like exploration, experimentation, resilience and persistence. Play helps children understand their emotions, build empathy for others and act out their concerns. And play does so much more that we cannot list it all!

In spite of these benefits, children’s engagement in unstructured play has declined. Children are currently spending less time outdoors than previous generations, and indoor spaces have become more conducive to sedentary activity. Additionally, play can be seen as frivolous and not important. It can be seen as secondary to academic achievement or other more ‘worthwhile’ pursuits. 

While play can take place in many environments, children are more curious about, and interested in, natural spaces than prefabricated play structures or indoor spaces. Children who engage in active outdoor play in natural environments demonstrate resilience, self-regulation and develop skills for dealing with stress later in life. Outdoor play tends to involve children feeling more freedom, being more physically active, moving their bodies in different ways, and playing differently with other children than they would inside. Outdoor play also exposes children to natural elements open air and the opportunity to engage in risk management experiences. Outdoor play doesn’t have to take place in the wilderness. You can create wonderful outdoor play opportunities in your own environmental context, even if in a small, contained play area.

When children are outside, they move more, sit less and play longer, behaviours that are important for keeping them mentally and physically healthy. 

For more information on the perception of play and outdoor play, please see this information sheet from the Canadian Public Health Association and the Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play.