The Benefits of Outdoor Play and Learning


By Deb Borden

According to The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, the average American child spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, yet more than 7 hours each day on screen time.

Most of us would agree that the play we experienced as children looks and feels different from the play of children today. Play has gravitated from outdoors to indoors.  Many reasons are cited for this shift – the aim to protect one’s children and the safety of being inside one’s home, the busy schedules, and the lure of electronics. The implications of reduced outdoor play are concerning, and it is disruptive to a healthy childhood.

The benefits of outdoor play are numerous

  • Children learn about their world and how it works.
  • The art of exploration, driven by a child’s natural curiosity, is practiced in outdoor play.
  • Children develop both fine and gross motor skills, build resilience, and encounter opportunities for healthy risk-taking.
  • Exercise and fresh air reduce the spread of infection.
  • Children who spend time outdoors (while protected from the sun) are happier and healthier.
  • The Centers for Disease Control concludes there is a correlation between the rise of childhood obesity and depression and increased time spent indoors in front of the computer and television.


“Wilderness reminds us of what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” Terry Tempest Williams


Holy Child School at Rosemont values outdoor play

More children today lack a connection with the natural world. The body, mind, and spirit are nurtured by spending time in nature, and Holy Child School at Rosemont recognizes the benefits of time spent outdoors.

  • All children have at least two recesses each school day and unless the weather is extremely wet or cold, our children are encouraged to play outdoors. It is important to note that recess is supervised but not structured. Time outdoors to run, laugh, imagine, and practice conflict resolution is important for building physical and emotional strength and resilience.
  • Holy Child incorporates outdoor learning through our field trips. PreKindergarten and Kindergarten take a trip to Highland Orchards, the 4th grade makes an excursion to the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ, and the 5th grade visits the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation and Valley Forge National Historic Park.
  • Outdoor education is featured in our two annual camping trips. In the fall, the 5th graders bunk for two nights at Camp Mason in Blairstown, NJ where they hike, participate in a low ropes course, and sing around a campfire. This trip plays an integral role in our Middle School transition assisting the students in experiencing the benefits of teamwork and in navigating challenges in a supportive environment. During 6th grade’s camping trip at Echo Hill in Maryland, the children continue to learn more about themselves and to work collaboratively through outdoor play and exploration.
  • During each Earth Day, we celebrate being good stewards of the Earth. Middle School students work along their Lower School and Early Childhood buddies to plant flowers and pick up trash at a local park. We also host several outdoor education experts for presentations.

Five ideas for capturing the benefits of the outdoors at home

  1. Purchase games that lure children outdoors such as cornhole, bean bag toss, and bubbles.
  2. Set up a comfortable area for children to be still, read a book, and relax outdoors.
  3. Take advantage of the outdoor resources in the area. Consider hiking, fishing, and canoeing.
  4. Provide a tree or bird identification book to allow children to find out more about the life in their yard and neighborhood.
  5. Collect outdoor objects – rocks, twigs, leaves, bugs, tree nuts – and create your own nature museum.

Looking for more outdoor experiences resources?

National Wildlife Federation

Natural Learning Initiative

Children and Nature Network

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Be part of the new nature movement, and share with us below how your family makes outdoor play a priority!





By Deb Borden, Associate Head of School and Director of Middle School

One Comment

  1. Melissa McGlinn

    Thanks for the inspiration to commune with and in nature, Deb!

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