Parenting Advisor - Skills Children Learn When Playing

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Skills Children Learn When Playing

You probably have heard the saying “leave no child behind.” That saying is related to giving every child an education. It talks about giving all children a chance to succeed. But “leave no child inside?” What does that mean?

Leave No Child Inside is about children and the outdoors. An organization called the Children and Nature Network ( started this saying. Have your children been outside today? Were they outside yesterday? How often do they go outside? I don’t mean just walking to the car. I mean spending time outside to play, explore, and be active.

Do they like to go outside? Do you worry about the weather? What is “good” weather to go outside? When is it too hot or too cold for children? When is it too wet or too dry for children? When is it OK for them to be outside? And what if they want to stay inside? Do your children have “nature-deficit disorder”?

Studies Show That…

Spending time in nature is very helpful for children. It can help children in many ways.

  • Physical Development. Playing outside helps children grow strong bodies. They have room to run and climb and swing. They can ride bikes and play with balls of all kinds. They can do active things they can’t do inside. This helps their hearts and lungs. It helps them learn sports skills. They burn calories and build muscles. All of that helps them to be healthy.
  • Mental Development. Children can learn many things while playing outside. They can learn about plants. They can see plants grow. They can touch them and learn how they feel and smell. They can dig in the ground and learn what is under the topsoil. They play with sand. They can learn about shapes and sizes. They can play with water. They can watch ants and worms and birds. They can learn how the air feels when it is warm and when it is cold. They can learn about the wind and the rain and snow. Outside is a natural science experiment all the time!
  • Social Development. Children can learn many things when they play together outside. They learn how to get along. Sometime they argue. Sometimes they make up. They make groups and then the groups break up. They work and play in formal groups. And then the make their own groups. Sometimes adults help them. Sometimes they are on their own. It is good for them to have a chance to be on their own outside. They learn how to solve problems.
  • School Development. Children do better in school when they spend some time outside. One reason is that it is good to have a break. It helps to take a rest from the classroom. It also helps to do some classwork outside sometimes. Some things can be taught better outside. Children can learn about science and art. They can learn about writing. They can learn about music. Many things can be learned outside!

Where can they learn outside? Backyards can be good. Schoolyards can be good. Many people also agree that parks are important. They say that we should have local parks. They also say we should have regional and national parks. They agree that parks are important for three reasons: 1. Parks help to teach about and care for the earth; 2. Parks help people get active and stay healthy; and 3. Public parks are a fair way for everyone to share outdoor spaces.

But studies show that lots of families do not go outside very often. Some writers have called today’s children the “backseat generation.” They say that children see the world only through car windows. Or they look out of the windows in their houses. Families might have nice yards, but they don’t use them. They spend most of their play time inside. Why?

  • Some people live in cities. They do not have yards. They would need to go to public parks to play outside.
  • But some people think their parks are not safe. They believe there is crime in the parks. Or the parks are not managed well. So, the equipment is not safe.
  • Some people even think their own yards are not safe for their children. They think the parents should always be there with the children.
  • Some areas do not have public parks. This is true in some towns and rural areas.
  • TV and video games keep some people inside. Some studies show half of family relaxation time is spent that way. Children and parents might want to watch movies and play with their phones or game consoles. So, they don’t go outside.
  • Weather keeps some people inside. They think it is too hot or too cold outside. Or they think it is too wet or slick. Maybe they don’t have the right clothes to be outside.

The longer that people spend inside, the more likely they are to be afraid of things outside. Maybe children never touched a bug. So, they are afraid of bugs. Maybe they were never outside in the rain. So, they are afraid the rain. It is also possible that the parents have these fears. Maybe the parents were not outside very much. They are afraid of these things, too. That means they pass the same fears on to their children. That means neither the children nor the parents can get the benefits from being outside.

Next Steps For Parents…

Parents, try it, you’ll like it! Stop being afraid of the outside. Take the time to get to know it. You can save money on going to a gym! Walk outside instead of riding in the car when you go places that are close. Maybe you wear a fitness tracker. Get your steps around your block. Find out that it can be fun! Then you can help your children learn to like being outside.

Help children spend time outside! Help them get the benefits of being outside.

  • Dress to be outside. Get raincoats, gloves, and boots for your children. Get warm coats for winter. Get boots for snow and boots for water and mud. It does not need to cost a lot of money. Go to resale stores. Trade with friends and family. The right clothes let you explore all kinds of weather. You might want to get some of those clothes for you, too!
  • Learn about basic outdoor safety. Learn about the most important things. Learn about lightning, frostbite, and heat stroke. Use sunscreen for yourself and your children. Drink water. Teach children to cross streets safely. But there will be some falls and scrapes and scratches. That is part of childhood. That is part of learning. Help children learn basic first aid. Let children explore and learn what happens when they take some chances in nature.
  • Start with taking walks together. The first step might be…taking steps. Take your time. Look at the nature around you. Pick up sticks and rocks and leaves that have fallen. (Teach children not to pick things that are still growing.) How do those things feel? How do they sound? How heavy are they? Are they cool or warm? How do they smell? Climb on things. Walk in puddles (with boots on). Look at the sky. Listen. Take pictures. Or draw pictures after the walk.
  • Find places to run and roll and jump. Get active with your children. Or watch while the children burn off their extra energy. Find a place where they can use their “outside voices.” They often need to be controlled inside. Find a place where they be big and strong and loud.
  • Join with neighbors to create outdoors spaces for play. Maybe you do not have a good outside space in your area. Maybe you think your area is not safe for children. You could join with other families to change that. Talk together. Maybe meet with public officials. Ask for help to make your area safer. Or start a petition. Or ask your neighbors about good places they have found. You could start by making one park a safe place for children. Or maybe there is a community center that would be a good place for children. That is not as good as outside. But it is a start.

Goals For Parents…

A first step is to see how you and your children are doing. How much time are your children spending outside? What kinds of activities are they doing? It is good to have a variety. Look for these kinds of activities:

  • Formal sports activities (soccer, baseball, outdoor swim team, etc.)
  • Swimming or water play for fun
  • Playing sports for fun
  • Playing (not sports) for fun, exploring
  • Walking, running, or hiking
  • Classroom or other organized learning activities outside
  • Sitting, reading, video games, sleeping outside (not active)
  • Other
  1. Look at how you are doing now. Keep track for one week. How long was each child outside? Write down the type of activity. It is good for children to do different types of activities. Then write down who else was there. It is good for children to be with parents sometimes. Then it is good to be with friends sometimes. It is good to be alone sometimes, too.
      Minutes Type of outside activity Who else was there
    Download activity tracker template

  2. After a week, set a goal. Talk with your children about what you learned. What do they think? Do you want to help your children spend more time outside? Is something missing? Would it be good to do one type of activity more? How can you help your children get outside more often?

You could keep track again after you set your goal. Are your children outside more often?

Don’t leave your children inside!

What nature teaches children — Nilda CoscoTEDxRaleigh


You might want to look at the books by this author:

Louv, Richard. Last child in the woods. And Vitamin N.


Arnold, J. E., Graesch, A. P., Ragazzini, E., and Ochs, E. (2012). Life at home in the twenty-first century: 32 families open their doors. Los Angeles: University of California-Los Angles Press.

Dressnack, M. (2009). Children and nature‐deficit disorder. Pediatric Nursing. 14(1), 73-75. DOI:

National Recreation and Park Association. (2016). Americans’ broad-based support for local recreation and park services: Results from a nationwide study. Retrieved from:

Milteer, R. M., & Ginsburg, K. R. (2012). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: Focus on children in poverty. Pediatrics,129; e204,

Tillmann, S., Clark, A,. F., Gilliland, J. A. (2018, June). Children and Nature: Linking Accessibility of Natural Environments and Children’s Health-Related Quality of Life. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(6), 1072. DOI:10.3390/ijerph15061072

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1 Comment

  1. learn to go play outside and enjoy the air. also maybe while u are outside playing might make a new friend.make sure that he ain’t afraid to make new friends or have a favorite play area that u could show your parents friend or someone o n the family.try not to keep him o n the house all the time so he can have social skills with others like his cousins,uncle,grandma grandpa or even if u have brother or sister later on in the future he will be able to play with the talk to them also even if he had a secret but I want him to be able to trust that person.

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