Outdoor Play for Child Development


As a matter of fact, the phrase, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is classified among clichés that should be avoided especially in professional writing. Unfortunately, the meaning of the phrase has also been considered outdated and less important with time. Consequently, most schools have sidelined outdoor play in their weekly schedules opting for more intense classwork (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001). Most preschool children are being exposed to intensive classwork by their teachers who are failing to understand the importance of outdoor play on both the physical and mental development on the children.

While adults purport to have an understanding of the intricacies of the children’s mind, it clear that they fail to meet most of the expectations of children especially when it comes to outdoor play settings. As White and Stoecklin (2009) point out, research has shown that grown-ups have completely failed to design play settings for children. If given a chance, children’s designed playgrounds would be totally different from what adults design for them. Their designed playgrounds would be full of naturalized plants, flowers, animals, mud and other play opportunity settings that cannot even be imagined.

Purpose of the Study

This paper will work to point out that outdoor play plays an important role in the general developmental process of a child. It will try to identify the contributions of outdoor play on the physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth of a child. By identifying these, the paper will change the prevalent perception by most of the early childhood schools which have laid most emphasis on the interior settings when defining quality in child care provision. Most early childhood schools promote an appropriate group size, qualification of the teacher and other development oriented practices on the children forgetting about the outdoor settings and their contribution to the developmental stability of the child.

Significance of the Study

The findings of this study will be very significant especially in my school where outdoor play has been given little priority with children being allowed outdoor play only twice a week. The findings will therefore help the school administration to decide on how the twice a week time schedule will be increased so that the children are given a chance to develop into well adjusted people both physically, socially and cognitively. This will also improve on the performance of the children and therefore promote the name of the school and all other schools that will get access to this study. In addition, it will provide a theoretical contribution to the available literature.

Literature Review

Several scholars have felt the importance of highlighting the contributions of outdoor play on the developmental process of preschool children. Burdette & Whitaker (2004, p. 46) identified that while the emphasis on outdoor play has waned, there is need for a refocus on this because play does not only encourage physical growth of the children but also it contributes positively on the development of the child’s, “social, emotional and cognitive aspects.” it is evident that outdoor play greatly improves the child’s attention, also referred to as cognitive strength, affiliation, also referred to as social abilities and affect which is also referred to as emotional orientation of the child.

These are additions to what most parents identify as the importance of outdoor play which they believe to impact on the child’s fitness and fatness. These sentiments were further echoed by DeBord et al (2007, p. 2; Henniger, 1993) who also identified the importance of play on the interaction ability of a child. They further pointed out that play improves the learning ability of the child.

In addition, physical play has a great contribution in the balance of energy within the body of infants and adolescents. This is what contributes to a positive health behavior. As Kohl and Hobbs (1998) point out, positive behavior is an outcome of an interaction between physiologic, environmental, social and psychological factors. This means that the diverse aspects of these factors interact in different ways to mould the positive behavior and activity.

One of the generally accepted contributions of outdoor play was improvement of the motor play of the child. All the studies mentioned above purported that a child’s motor play improves with encouragement of outdoor plays (Buell et al, 1968). On the same study on the improvement of the motor play of the child, Buell et all further points out that while the role of the teacher-supplied reinforcement in the effort to come up with a certain response is great, the outcome can be marred with behavior changes where one unwanted behavior is replaced by another unwanted behavior.

For example, he points out instances where a child prone to crying modifies the behavior and changes to thumb sucking. This is characteristic of teacher-supplied reinforcement. However the problem is not experienced in instances where the child is exposed to both the indoor and outdoor behavior modification agents. This shows that a child’s behavior can be well molded by considering both the social and motor deficiencies. Using of outdoor play develops both the skills.

The interacting skills of children are attained through their contacts with several factors. They range from interactions with their fellow children, with adults, and also with the objects that are found within the environment. If well set, the environment offers a very important form of teaching where children are given opportunity to question and explore and as a result come up with theories on the way things work. This opportunity also imparts on the children the relevant skills of incorporation, speech and negotiation. This shows that through outdoor plays, children learn to interact which eventually gives them these relevant life survival skills (Miller, 1989; Moore, 1993).

However, outdoor learning should not be an unorganized affair with children playing anywhere with anything. It has to be well organized with the teacher ensuring that what happens outside is an extension of the classwork. The outdoor environment is supposed to be organized in a way that it involves all the physical, emotional, social and cognitive aspects of learning. The environments should allow the children to have a clear understanding of themselves, their peers and the environment as a whole.

This can be achieved through a diversity of play materials which trigger curiosity, exploration, movements and hence promote interactions. Diversity also stimulates the desire for discoveries and self discoveries. In addition, the diversity of play materials also stimulates creativity and innovativeness (Moore & Cosco, n.d; Rivkin, 1995).

Finally, it is worth noting that outdoor play allows children to engage in games that involve the whole body and thus gives the children room for planning and implementation of their plans without any limitation of noise and movement.

This means that outdoor play gives room for messy and noisy games that also involve rough and nonviolent superhero games that would not have been allowed in indoor learning. As a result, children are able to engage in games that are more physical and which engage not only the muscles but also enhance motor development. Furthermore, outdoor plays help kids to develop their physical skills through the facilitation or constraining their interaction and strategies with others (Talbot & Frost, 1989; Davies, 1996; Perry, 2003; Greenman, 1988; Frost, Wortham & Reifel, 2001).

Basing on the researches and studies shown above, it is evident that outdoor plays are important in the developmental process of children. This paper therefore is set to reaffirm the same position. It is set to point out how well organized outdoor playing environments can improve on the child’s emotional, social, cognitive and physical development.


In conclusion, the dwindling desire to allow children to participate in outdoor games is a drawback to the attainment of desirable learning. It is important that preschool children are subjected to outdoor games by subjecting them to environments that are well organized and those that promote the wholeness of learning. Through this, the children will have a positive development emotionally, physically, cognitively and socially.

They will also develop skills like language, cooperation and negotiation through the interactions during this process of play. Through outdoor play, the motor play of the preschool kids can be improved so that they are not subjected to behavior change that allows for alternative choices of negative behavior. Finally, outdoor games give the children a chance to explore and make discoveries about nature, their friends and themselves. This is essential for the positive behavior development.


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