The benefits of play experience outdoors in natural environments are remarkable and extensive. Among the benefits: stress reduction, physical fitness, immunity boost for healing, mental health, and creativity; physical, emotional and intellectual development; bonding with nature, appreciation for nature, and heightened sense of beauty. Unstructured experience in nature is more beneficial than structured experiences and the benefits are universal across cultural and geographic areas.
Volumes of evidence suggests that outdoor play deprivation contributes to obesity and, over time, the social and physical effects of obesity contribute, in a circular fashion, to play deprivation. As the obese child grows progressively weaker – relative to weight, and dexterity, socialization abilities tend to decline or fail to develop. The overweight child may then withdraw from trying and wander aimlessly during recess and neighborhood play, avoiding strenuous activity and seeking attention and status through bullying or helping smaller children. Many Americans have never understood that seemingly aimless children’s play is an innate, biological attribute key to their development, and its expression is essential to healthy development in both animals and humans. Play deprivation in nature equates to serious consequences on children’s development, health, and well-being. Similarly, both spontaneous play and experiences in nature are deeply rooted in history and culture and a growing array of evidence links biology to all of this.
Today’s parents are well advised yet simple basics (such as access to outdoor playground equipment) are being overlooked.