The Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids

Interested in play-based learning (PBL) and its role in physical development? PBL is where play serves as the main avenue for gaining essential skills and knowledge, blending fun with dynamic, interactive learning. Each outdoor adventure, from climbing trees to running barefoot, contributes to motor skills, coordination, and physical strength. In this article, we'll unveil the intrinsic connection between learning through play and comprehensive physical development, offering insights and steps to integrate playful learning, ensuring kids grow up not just intellectually enriched, but physically robust, ready to embrace life’s diverse challenges.

  1. Gross Motor Skills: An Overview

  2. The Impact of Play-Based Learning on Gross Motor Skill Development

  3. The Benefits of Outdoor Play in Play-Based Learning

  4. STEM Learning through Physical and Outdoor Play

Gross Motor Skills: An Overview

Gross motor skills encompass the fundamental movements that involve the body's large muscles, enabling walking, jumping, and skipping. These skills are not just essential; they're pivotal in early childhood, laying a strong foundation for enhanced physical strength, coordination, and the ability to interact adeptly with the world. Every playful moment and every joyful leap is a step towards academic readiness, social adeptness, and boosted self-confidence. In essence, gross motor skills are the silent architects of holistic child development, ensuring kids are equipped to explore and embrace the world.

The Impact of Play-Based Learning on Gross Motor Skill Development

Play-Based Learning (PBL) is an essential element in a child’s journey of acquiring and mastering gross motor skills. Through activities that are as engaging as they are educational, PBL encourages kids to explore, move, and learn in the most natural setting – play, this can be demonstrated through role playing movement-oriented games. These games are more than entertainment; they are practical tools that contribute significantly to building a child’s strength, coordination, and overall physical competence.

Role-playing games and activities:

When children assume roles from superheroes to kings, every action, from leaps to dashes, contributes to enhancing their gross motor skills and muscle coordination. But the benefits extend beyond the physical. This imaginative plays nurtures cognitive development, creativity, and boots self-esteem. Each achievement in their fantasy worlds translates into increased confidence in the real world, combining physical advancement with emotional and psychological enrichment seamlessly. Thus, role-playing is a multifaceted educational experience, fostering both physical skills and mental well-being in children.

Movement-oriented games (e.g., tag, hopscotch):

These activities specifically focus on running, jumping, and balancing, critical actions that directly contribute to a child's physical growth. In games like tag, for instance, the child’s agility, speed, and coordination are enhanced as they maneuver quickly to avoid being "it". Hopscotch, on the other hand, bolsters balance and precision, with each hop and jump aiming for a specific square.

As children bloom, the gross motor skills they’ve nurtured through playful learning become the roots grounding their physical and psychological well-being, blossoming into lifelong benefits that are as tangible as they are profound, seen in improved coordination, better physical health, and confidence in physical activities.

Improved coordination:

Children who engage in varied play activities develop refined motor skills. Each action, from running to jumping, reflects the seamless integration of well-coordinated muscles, showcasing enhanced physical agility and control.

Better physical fitness and health:

Physical fitness and health aren’t just incidental; these games involve a variety of movements that encourage kids to be active, helping them to become more agile and strong. As children run, jump, and explore through play, they naturally build physical stamina and strength. These activities contribute to overall physical development, ensuring that children are active and engaged, which is essential for their general health and well-being.

Confidence in physical activities:

Children involved in diverse and active play develop a heightened sense of self-assurance. This boost in confidence stems from their enhanced physical abilities, allowing them to engage, explore, and interact with their environment effectively. As they master various movements and activities, their belief in their own capabilities grows. They become not only participants but active and enthusiastic contributors.

The Benefits of Outdoor Play in Play-Based Learning

In the embrace of the great outdoors, children find a playground that's not just a space for physical activity but a dynamic classroom for holistic development. The natural environment nurtures their budding motor skills, offering varied terrains and sensory experiences that are as enriching as they are essential. As children step away from the digital world, they embark on a “digital detox,” unraveling a world where their emotional and psychological well-being is nurtured by the simple yet profound touch of nature. Amidst the rustling leaves and open spaces, social skills and bonds are forged, laying the foundation for interpersonal intelligence. Each subsection below showcases the multi-dimensional benefits that outdoor play injects into play-based learning.

1. Natural Environment's Role in Stimulating Physical Activities

Varied terrains (hills, sand, grass) promoting different kinds of movement:

Each type of terrain offers a distinct challenge, aiding the enhancement of gross motor skills. For instance, walking on sand can help improve balance and strength, while navigating hills can enhance coordination and endurance. Every encounter with different ground textures provides a unique learning experience.

Exposure to natural elements like wind and sunlight, enhancing sensory experiences:

Feeling the wind against their skin helps kids understand variations in pressure and temperature, while sunlight aids in distinguishing light intensity and warmth. These direct interactions with nature provide real-world learning experiences that refine children’s sensory skills, building a foundation for complex cognitive tasks and physical coordination.

2. The Emotional and Psychological Benefits of a “Digital Detox”

Improved mood and reduced stress:

Stepping outdoors offers an immediate shift in children's emotional states. The fresh air and natural surroundings work together to alleviate stress, replacing it with a sense of calm and joy. For example, the act of playing outside encourages physical activity which in turn releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters. Simultaneously, the sensory engagement with nature, like the sounds of birds and the sight of greenery, facilitates a psychological reset, offering a break from screen time and promoting mental well-being.

Boost in creativity and imagination:

A “digital detox” allows children's creativity to flourish in an unrestricted environment. The varied, unpredictable nature of the outdoors presents endless opportunities for imaginative play. For instance, a simple tree can become a castle, and rocks transform into treasures. This shift from the structured, predictable digital world to an open-ended, interactive natural environment encourages children to think creatively, expanding their imaginative capacities.

3. Social Benefits of Outdoor Play

Teamwork, sharing, negotiation, and conflict resolution:

Outdoor play fosters the development of essential social skills. Through group games and shared activities, children learn the importance of teamwork and sharing. For instance, games that require collaboration instill a sense of communal achievement and belonging. When conflicts arise, children are prompted to negotiate and resolve issues, enhancing their communication and problem-solving skills

STEM Learning through Physical and Outdoor Play

Outdoor environments offer a seamless integration of physical play and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning. Children’s natural interactions with the outdoor elements not only spark curiosity but also provide practical, hands-on experiences that enhance understanding of STEM concepts.

Nature as a Learning Platform:

The outdoors serves as a natural setting where children explore and interact with various elements, each offering a unique lesson in science or math. For instance, observing the patterns of leaves can lead to a basic understanding of symmetry and biology.

Engaging Learning Methods:

Activities like building miniature bridges from twigs aren’t just play but also an introduction to basic engineering concepts. These activities are intuitive, making the learning process engaging and natural.

Development of Critical Skills:

Beyond gaining STEM knowledge, outdoor play enhances critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Children learn to observe, question, and solve problems as they interact with natural elements, promoting cognitive development.

Outdoor play is crucial in promoting children’s physical and cognitive development. Through play-based learning, kids hone their motor skills and build strength, facilitated by the natural, sensory-rich environment. The “digital detox” afforded by outdoor play enhances emotional well-being and creativity, while the social interactions occurring naturally during play foster communication and teamwork skills. Additionally, the integration of STEM elements ensures kids are not only physically active but also intellectually engaged. Every step, touch, and interaction outdoors is a blend of play and learning, the essence of a well-rounded, comprehensive developmental journey.


Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "The Benefits of Outdoor Play: Why It Matters." July 28, 2020,

Dewar, Gwen, PhD. "Learning by Doing: How Outdoor Play Prepares Kids for Achievement in STEM." October 2016,

Durham Region Children's Services Division, Early Learning Training Specialist Team. "Outdoor Learning Everyday."

Glassy, Danette, MD, FAAP, and Pooja Tandon, MD, FAAP. "Playing Outside: Why It’s Important for Kids." 19 April 2023,

Lawson Foundation. Advancing Outdoor Play and Early Childhood Education: A Discussion Paper. May 2019. Available at

By Staples Canada

October 27, 2023