How To Encourage Toddler Outdoor Play Activities

Most children naturally enjoy outdoor play and activities. Playing outside inspires your child to create her own games while feeling a sense of freedom from inhaling fresh air. Deprivation of outdoor play can cause your child to suffer many health issues including depression, obesity and heart disease in adulthood.

All children age 2 and older should participate daily in at least 60 minutes of enjoyable, moderate-intensity physical activities that are age-appropriate, according to the American Heart Association.

Limiting Imagination

Being outdoors inspires children to create their own games in accordance with nature’s small gifts such as a sunny day or the simplicity of a butterfly. Over-scheduling children’s structured activities deprives them of their need to go out and play, make up their own games and use their imaginations, according to CNN’s Josh Levs. Children need the freedom to explore the outdoors on their own terms.

Constant sports practices or organized playground activities do not constitute unstructured play and can add stress to a child’s life when he feels a lack of freedom to enjoy the outdoors with a sense of carefree freedom.

Sedentary Lifestyle

A lack of outdoor activities can set children on a path to a sedentary lifestyle that causes weight gain and health issues. Excessive weight gain during childhood can lead to diabetes and a habit of choosing inactivity over healthy exercise. Exercise or physical activity is especially important for children as it helps control weight, lowers blood pressure, raises HDL (healthy cholesterol levels), and reduces the risk of diabetes and some types of cancer, according to the American Heart Association.

Outdoor play also benefits the psychological well-being of a child. Children who aren’t encouraged to play outdoors quickly develop a mind-set to seek entertainment in front of a television or video games. The pattern becomes increasingly more difficult to break as children age into adulthood.

Lack of Vitamin D

Sunshine provides an adequate source of Vitamin D for children. Foods such as salmon, tuna and herring also supply Vitamin D, but many children refuse to eat such foods. Consistent lack of Vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis and a weakened immune system in adulthood. To receive enough Vitamin D from sunshine, your child needs to go outside in the sun with enough skin exposed for about 10 minutes, several times a week, according to Dr. Robert Nohle, chief of pediatrics at Group Health Cooperative. However, a child can also suffer a serious sunburn in less than 10 minutes. Sunscreen is a must for lowering the risk of skin cancer.

Sunscreen blocks the skin’s ability to absorb Vitamin D, but also allows some Vitamin D absorption in areas where sunscreen has worn off or was not applied to all areas of the skin, says The Naked Scientists, a group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University.

Nature Deficit Disorder

Author and child advocacy expert Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder to address the alarming disconnect between children and the outdoors. Louv says some of the most dangerous childhood trends, including the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression, are the result of children not getting the time they need to connect with the freedom of nature and the outdoors.

Louv attests that Nature Deficit Disorder is caused by society’s excessive use of technology without the healthy balance of sunlight and nature children require for healthy physical and emotional development. Louv also founded the Children and Nature Network where research and resources support a growing audience of professionals who believe outdoor play is essential to a child’s development.

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