Play & Learn

Why is Unstructured Outdoor Play Good for Your Child?

ByMadelyn SisonJanuary 6, 2022
kids playing in the outdoors
Do you remember when childhood meant little ones running outside and losing themselves in play with their friends in the streets til dusk arrived? When children played in the parks and made up their own games? Perhaps this was your childhood, mama. Is it your child’s?
Unfortunately, modern times have made modern childhood less colorful. Passivity seems to be the name of the game as the kids stay sedentary indoors, tapping and swiping at all the screens they have. And if they’re out and about, they’re in extra-curricular classes scheduled one after the other where they have to listen, follow, and repeat.
Structured play has its benefits but it seems that the best thing parents can give their kids is unstructured outdoor play. It sounds counterproductive at first—can children really learn by themselves? But when given the opportunity, children become their very best selves this way: playing in the outdoors that is theirs to explore.

Appreciation for nature

Constantly immerse children in the outdoors and they’ll grow their love for it. They won’t remember the electronic gadget but they’ll always remember the smell of fresh flowers, the sound of the rushing river, the sight of the purple-hued sunset. When kids know the beauty of nature, they’ll do everything they can to protect it and keep it thriving.

Cultivating a growth mindset

Researcher Carol Dweck says there are two types of mindsets. One is a fixed mindset; another, a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, qualities are stagnant traits; in a growth mindset, learning and intelligence can grow over time and through education and persistence. Studies show that children are more confident and flexible with a growth mindset. When they engage in unstructured play, they learn how to think creatively and critically. Without a set of rules, children discover their capabilities and expand their horizons.

Increased socialization

When children stay indoors, their companions tend to be inanimate screens whom they don’t have any conversations with. Place a child in a park and they’re suddenly surrounded by all kinds of people. From children of their own age to older ones, a group of teens to an elderly person, they are given opportunities to socialize in different ways. When they’re playing with others, kids also learn how to work with them, exchange thoughts, and develop empathy.

Developing curiosity

In the traditional way of learning, knowledge is spoon-fed. In unstructured play, children follow their interests which makes them more curious about things. The outdoors makes them ask more questions: Why is my shadow long at this time of the day? What is the name of that bird? How can my friend and I make this kite fly? Having questions ignites their inner drive to learn. Kids need to be in a dynamic environment and the outdoors is the perfect place for that.

Exercise and movement

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, for one, has reported that kids aged 1 to 4 should have at least three hours of physical activity spread throughout the day. Unstructured outdoor play can easily account for that requirement. Doctors have been shocked at how inactive kids have become in the past few years. Parents must provide endless opportunities for kids to move their growing body in order to develop both their fine and gross motor skills.
Mamas think much has to be done for children to learn and be happy. But the secret, as the Dutch have discovered, is to just let children out the front door and have their own adventures. Play is the name of the game and the outdoors is the playground— that’s the winning formula.