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What is so great about the 'great outdoors'?
Lana Van Damme

At any time, all over the globe, children can be connected to a network that puts everything at their fingertips. In a world where technology is king and screen time has become a bargaining chip, have we lost sight of the beauty in simplicity?

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Technology is amazing. It connects us in ways that we had never imagined possible. And, we also recognize that we need a bit more than a keyboard, a hard drive, and a chat window to thrive. We need connection, we need fresh air, we need to be outside and play more.

We already know there are so many benefits to play in general, but taking playtime outside can give an extra boost to those superpowers!

Here are some of the key benefits of playing outside.

Independence: We all remember it, that first taste of freedom. Walking at our own pace. Stopping to observe a ladybug. Choosing the left swing over the right because it goes just a bit higher. These micro-decisions inspire children to become just a touch more independent, giving them the confidence to try new things and rely on their instincts.

Physical Activity: This one would seem to speak for itself. Physical activity is great for our bodies and our minds. It builds muscle and flexibility and releases endorphins.

Sunshine: Sun safety is a serious matter and should always be met with an application of sunscreen before venturing outdoors - yes, even on cloudy days. Soaking up the rays and all that vitamin D can do wonders. Studies show that a daily dose of sunshine can help improve our moods, helps with bone development, can help with regulating sleep cycles and immune system stabilization, to name a few. Because really, we're all just house plants with complicated emotions, right?

Executive Function & Risk Taking: These two benefits go hand in hand; executive function is, in short, learning to plan ahead. These skills include planning, prioritizing, negotiating, troubleshooting, and multitasking. Once those come into play, that's when risk-taking also surfaces. Think of it this way, before crossing the monkey bars, a child must see if they are available; if not, maybe they need to wait or ask for a turn. Then they would need to recognize how far they could reach to get to their starting point; is it the first bar in the line, or are their arms long enough to reach the third? Next, they need to plan how they'll catch the bar after that. And finally, they need to feel confident in taking the risk of falling in the process of crossing. Thus, even in something as innocent as playing at the park, kids can gain all kinds of skills that will serve them throughout life.

Socialization: Playground politics are no joke. As social creatures, we are hard-wired to be around others. Though as individuals, sometimes this can be tricky. Early exposure to socialization, in particular, independent socialization, can yield a myriad of benefits. That is to say, when a child learns to navigate a social situation on their own, they can learn a lot about the dynamics of society. Be it negotiation ("You can have a turn now, but I get one after"), moral conundrums ("That's not fair. Everyone should be able to play tag"), or even hierarchy ("The baby swing is only for babies, not for big kids").

Dirty Hands: This one may sound a little messier than others, but getting dirty has its benefits too. From the literal standpoint, dirt and what's in it can help boost an immune system. Don't go eating spoonfuls of it, mind you. But even just breathing in the air can expose a child to harmless pollen, dander, and millions of other airborne elements that can (unless you have an allergy) strengthen their immune response.

In the less literal sense, going outside and playing in what nature has to offer can foster a life-long love for the outdoors. Who knows, maybe your child who climbs trees now, will be the key to saving the rainforests in the future.

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