Benefits of Outside Time

by Marcie
10 siblings playing in the woods with sticks

There are so many benefits of outside time, where do I start?

Growing up in the country

I grew up on 4 acres where my mom was always telling us to go play outside. We lived 1/2 mile back a dirt road where we could run, jump, and call to each other through the woods and never bother a soul. Outside is where we could be as loud and rambunctious as we wanted. We made bike trails, we played house, we played on the trampoline and zipline. To this day when I go home I still see this certain gangly shrub and point out to my kids, “That’s Taco Bell.” When we rode bikes we’d assigned different trees, shrubs, grassy places as people’s houses, Taco Bell, the library, or the public pool. We had our own little city and had so much fun playing for hours. I know firsthand how much outdoor time benefited me.

My own benefits of outside time

While playing I was relaxed and care-free. I lived in the moment and worried about nothing else. When we were called in for dinner and there was a small crisis (sibling sitting in “my seat” or there was no milk with dinner), I handled the problem much better than when I’d been playing inside all day. So you can say I had better coping skills and a positive attitude about problems.

We siblings formed a strong bond playing outside together without parental involvement. We figured out where everyone would live and which store they would run, how much acorns were worth in terms of money, etc. When disagreements came up we worked them out for fear of someone leaving the game. We needed everyone there to make it work or we wouldn’t have a lifeguard at the pool. We made up rules and changed them to fit the situation or day or according to age. The little kids were allowed to live nearest town so they didn’t have to ride their bike as far on the rocky trail. The oldest kids had to pay the most acorns for things.

We had excellent health, physical stamina, great balance and coordination, and keen senses. We were tough. If we got injured or sick we weren’t down for long.

We were creative and imaginative. Sticks were used for axes, motorcycle handlebars, swords, bows and arrows. We played Paul Bunyan, cops & robbers, motorcycle riders, sword fighters, and Robin Hood.

I could go on and on. Sometimes I hated it when my mom sent us outside. I’d sneak in for a drink and sit on the couch with a book but my mom would send me out again. So then I’d take my book under a tree and end up also swinging on the swing set, making up my own poems and stories, and feeling in a much better frame of mind. I’m so grateful my mom made us play outside so much. I hope one day my children will thank me too.

To summarize, here are the benefits I noted above:

  • Feeling relaxed and care-free
  • Being able to live in the moment.
  • Better coping skills
  • Positive attitude about problems
  • Strong sibling bond
  • Ability to get along with all different ages and skill level
  • Ability to set up a mini society
  • Excellent physical health
  • Bounce back from injuries or illnesses
  • Great balance and coordination
  • Keen senses
  • Creative and imaginative

All these benefits and more are available to children today. Games I played in the 80’s are still available to play today. In fact my children play many of them and have come up with their own that are more complex and imaginative than mine were.

My #1 Benefit of Outside Time

If I had to only cite one benefit of outside time it would be a better mood. This encompasses a lot though. When my children come in from playing they are all grinning. They are happy, feeling fulfilled and deeply satisfied with their play. Fights are non-existent. They are ready to help make dinner, set the table, fold laundry and move on with the evening. In other words, there is no more witching hour. 🙂 They’ve had a reset. Just getting away from the house with all of us in a small space, crowded with furniture, wall hangings, and toys helps them feel free and spacious. It’s like our eyes aren’t meant to see so much “stuff” but seeing the natural world of trees, grass, sticks and more rejuvenates us.

I even make my teenagers go outside every single day, rain or shine. My 15 year old loves writing music on the computer and would do it all day if I let him. But I notice when he goes outside, whether it’s playing on the trampoline, weeding the garden or just singing in the woods, he comes in more cheerful. He is more talkative and tells me about his day, notices little siblings who may need help, sings in the bathroom, etc. If he doesn’t get outside time every day he is more moody, quiet, and slow to help.

My kids playing in their fort stores. Thomas sells swords so that’s why everyone has one. Other kids sell things like pine needle brooms or stick dolls.

Here’s a list of benefits of outside time/nature I’ve compiled from an internet search

Benefits of Nature

Increase in concentration
Increase in confidence
Better fine motor skills
Better gross motor skills
Builds resilience
More imaginative
Better social skills
Better problem solving skills
Increase in creativity
Increase in cognitive performance
Better mood and less depression
Less stress
Less anxiety
Better positive attitude
Better immune system = less illness
More vitamin D and less injuries
Better eyesight and less nearsightedness
Better at handling emotions, disappointments, etc.
Decrease in obesity

Which one of these benefits does your child need? Send him outside! I’m guessing there are actually several of them you’d like to see in your child. All the more reason to send him out more often, eat dinner on the front lawn, read outloud to him under a tree, even let him sleep outside if it’s safe. The whole family will start to see benefits!

Some good websites citing the benefits of nature school

I love the concept of nature school and I talk about it in other posts, but I figure the benefits of nature school also apply to your children playing outside in your own yard. So I’m posting here in case you’re interested.

I hope this post helps convince you to incorporate more nature and outside time into your life. I know not everyone has a big back yard, so check out my post on how to do nature school in the city. Or any of my nature school posts for more inspiration.

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McKenna March 16, 2023 - 10:36 am

What an encouraging and thoughtful read! I have been hearing so much about the 1,000 hours outside challenge lately and have been motivated to be more intentional in this area. Living in WI, it can be difficult for our family to achieve, with all the unpredictable weather. But you’re right, there are so many benefits, both mentally, physically and relationally. Thank you for sharing!

Heather March 16, 2023 - 10:44 am

Agreed! My boys grew up outside. I really am my happiest when I can get solid time outdoors on the daily.


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