Too often, playing outside is not a priority for boys as the get older. School, video games, and after school activities become more important than simply playing in the outdoors. Even though many sports are played outside, they cannot be equated with the super-simple and super-important simply playing outside.
For young boys, playing outside is a natural desire. Even the smallest backyards are wonderlands to a little boy. There are bugs, dirt, grass, weeds, and flowers in abundance. Very few boys shy away from the opportunity to run, be loud, and get dirty – all prerequisites for playing outdoors!
How important is playing outside? According to experts, it is crucial to a boy’s physical, social, and emotional development. Physically, the advantages of playing outside are clear. With obesity rates for children at record levels, the very act of going outside virtually guarantees at least some physical activity. Further, every hour spent outside is potentially one fewer hour in front of the television or video games, known factors in some of the increase in the childhood obesity rate. It turns out that being outside gives boys more than leaner bodies, though; it also gives them important Vitamin D, a key component in the absorption of calcium and protection from other later-in-life ailments.
In addition to the physical benefits of outside playtime, though, there are also educational and emotional advantages as well. The long-lost art of nature study happens organically when boys play outside. They observe the differences between frogs and toads naturally as they find first one, and then the other. They learn that a lizard drops its tail when it is in danger when they try to catch one. They learn which birds are native to their part of the country when they see them coming to the bird feeder. None of these activities feels like education, either for the parent answering questions or for the child asking them. One hour spent actively engaging with nature, though, can be worth far more than reading about it in a textbook, or even exploring nature-based websites online. Children, especially boys, learn by doing, and they remember things that they have experienced in more than one way. A boy who has smelled, touched, and taken apart a flower is far more likely to retain what he learns about that flower than one who has read about a flower in a book.
Emotionally, boys need to play outside. Any mother of a son can describe the kinetic ball of energy she calls her child. While many girls are happy to play dolls and tea party quietly indoors, boys explode with physical joy the moment they are let outside. Just half an hour outside can allow a boy to rid himself of some of his excess energy, which can make him readier to focus when he goes back inside. Many mothers can vouch for the benefits of allowing an antsy and hyper boy outside in order to recapture order and tranquility inside!
TV and video games have their place in a boy’s life, but they should never take the place of playing outside. Even boys who are reluctant to leave the couch to try some outdoor time very quickly figure out that their outdoor options are limitless, and that playing outside just feels good!