How the Outdoors Makes Your Kids Smarter

Running, jumping, pulling, pushing, and balancing—these are only some of the numerous physical skills that all of us picked up from the playground. Many of us can trace the athleticism and confidence that we have in doing advanced sports and physical activities to the physicality that we built on the playground. After all, it was there where we first trained our bodies to take on bigger and bigger challenges.

Smart kid playing on his swing set with monkey bars

As such, it’s almost a given that outdoor play does so much for a child’s body. But what about their mind? Can outdoor play really improve a child’s intelligence aside from developing their prowess in physically oriented activities? Modern science says yes—even just an hour of outdoor play every day can contribute so much to a child’s cognitive, analytical, mnemonic, and social skills. In their book Play, Development, and Early Education (2004) researchers Johnson, Christie, and Wardle explain how outdoor play inspires four crucial aspects of children’s learning: their need to explore, their desire to take risks, their fine and gross motor development, and their capacity to absorb a large amount of basic knowledge about the world around them.

Sadly, some parents limit outdoor play in favour of letting their children stay indoors, often with a smartphone or tablet to keep them entertained. But here’s why you should set aside the gadgetry and reintroduce your kids to the outdoors you loved as children. As evidenced by the list below, there is so much to learn—and so many opportunities to increase one’s smarts—at the playground or in the neighbourhood park.

1. Outdoor play offers children practical avenues to learn more about themselves and take on bigger challenges. Some early lessons are best taught through experience, and in this sense, the outdoors may function better than a classroom. For example, playing on monkey bars for kids helps your child learn spatial awareness, gauge their limits, and approximate the proper timing to make their next move. Outdoor play is the perfect opportunity for a child to apply insight about what he or she is capable of—and then challenging themselves to get even better at the task at hand.


2. Outdoor play enhances memory and inspires attentiveness. There’s a lot of intelligence involved in outdoor play, and it is not exclusively the physical kind. When kids are outdoors, they are constantly engaging with new patterns of movement and memorising new sets of rules. Their minds are very alive in these moments since they become involved in cognitive processes that, at times, are just as elaborate as what is taught in the classroom.


3. Outdoor play helps kids learn about nature, the environment, and physical phenomena. Older kids may think that they only learned about physics, geology, and biology in the classroom, but in truth, they likely also encountered concepts in these fields of knowledge in the park or in the playground. After all, it’s in these places where they’ve seen indigenous plants and animals in their natural habitat, and witnessed and applied the concepts of gravity, force, speed, and momentum. If a teacher were to explain these ideas to children using examples that they could relate to, they’d pick up on the subject much faster!


4. Outdoor play increases a child’s social intelligence. In many instances, outdoor play also means sharing the open space with others.  This is the chance for your child to build an aspect of intelligence that will serve them throughout their lives: social intelligence. In simple actions such as waiting for one’s turn to play on the slide or the backyard monkey bars, helping someone else on the swing, or joining in someone else’s role-play, kids can be more attuned to each other’s feelings, be more aware of the social rules that govern a particular place or group of people, and be more collaborative and cooperative with one another.

    Suffice to say, the outdoors are an ideal learning environment not only for the kids who are physically inclined, but for everyone in general. Get your children into the healthy habit of playing outdoors, where they can enrich both their minds and their bodies.