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Benefits of the Natural Playground

August 13, 2015 by HealthyFamiliesBC

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Benefits of the Natural Playground

Remember growing up and your parents simply told you, “go play outside!”? Most of the time you didn’t even need telling; you wanted to be outside playing and exploring. There was no organization, rules were basic, and you came inside when your name was called or the street lights came on.

When children are outside they move more. Unstructured outdoor play is an important part of growing up. It’s where kids establish their own limits and learn the skills needed to be more physically literate.

What is physical literacy? It’s about learning to do basic body movements properly. When kids develop movement and sport skills, they are able to move confidently and with control doing a wide range of physical activities. Learn more.

Researchers suggest that too many restrictions on outdoor “risky play” (playing at heights and at higher speeds) might be doing more harm than good for a child’s development. Letting children run, jump, climb, fall, and even bruise while they are outside playing with friends helps them establish their own personal risk boundaries; a crucial skill for later in life.

Some of the best lessons I’ve learned (although I may not have thought so at the time) were through mistakes or trial-and-error. For example: falling while learning to ride my bike gave me scraped knees, but I am now very comfortable commuting to work by bike.

Here are a few other benefits kids gain from being active in the natural playground:

  • More physical activity: playing outside for a few hours is a great way to reach and exceed the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per day.
  • Motor skills: being active outside on different types of terrain (like ice, snow, dirt, grass, and sand) and in different weather helps with balance, strength, and hand-eye coordination.
  • Knowledge: exploring the outdoors promotes imagination, creativity and learning.
  • An appreciation for nature: outside, kids use all their senses; the smell of grass, the grainy feel of earth, the sound of wind rustling through trees... 

How do you encourage your children to learn through play? Comment below or get in touch with us on Twitter @HealthyFamilyBC and @TeamPAL.

Related blogs:

Physical Literacy is More Than Reading and Writing
Playgrounds Aren’t Just for Kids
If You Want Your Kids to Be Active, Get them Outside and Playing!

Recommended Resources:

Canadian Sports for Life: Glossary
Active For Life: One good reason kids need to take physical risks

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Comments (2)


Posted on Tuesday September 15, 2015 a 9:41am

Hi Norm, my kids are still little so we keep play pretty unstructured. They do a lot of imaginative play often involving pretending that they are garbage/fire/street sweeping trucks. We take advantage of their interests in waste management and encourage them to sort their toys into different buckets as part of their play. We also bring counting and vocabulary games into their play. They feel so proud as they become accomplished and increase their understanding of how the world around them works.

Thanks for the posts.



Posted on Monday September 21, 2015 a 10:26am

Hi Dean,

Thanks so much for the message and reading our blog! Love that your kids pretend to be working and such, this is a very good example of unstructured free play and is quite beneficial! I find it very thoughtful that you are also including vocabulary and counting as well into it; kudos to you.




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