Why Children Need to Play Outside – Even in Winter

Kids in Snow

When the weather is nice and the sun is shining, as parents we have no problem sending our children outside to play. Why? Because we all know that playing outside is great for our kids. And it means that we can actually get a few things done without being distracted.  Which is why we dread the bitter cold months.

But we don’t have to. Sending our children outside during the cold months actually has some real extraordinary benefits for our children (and adults too!).

Build Up The Immune System

It’s no surprise that many children that are raised on, or around, a farm are generally healthier than those that aren’t. This is because on a regular basis, rural children are exposed to dirt, animals, pests, bacteria and everything else that sends modern-day parents running. While many of us don’t live on farms, we tend to think that dirt, animals, pests and bacteria do more harm than good. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When our children come into contact with these things in a nature-based setting and on a regular basis, they are less likely to develop autoimmune disorders and allergies.

Research also shows that forest environments have beneficial effects on human immune functions.  A New York City study in 2008 found a connection between an increase in street trees and a reduction in the prevalence of asthma in children. 


Exercise Little Bodies

Playing outside provides children with something many children don’t get enough of anymore – exercise. Exercising while having fun is the best kind of exercise, and that’s exactly what playing outside does. Playing with friends, building a snowman, sledding, having snowball fights and other outside activities get our children’s bodies moving…something most iPads and video games can’t do.

Stimulate the Imagination

We all recognize that we are living in the technological age.  Why go outside and play tag when we can watch a movie about it or play a video game?  Playing outside helps children develop their imagination, which is something that television, video games,  and iPads can’t do in the same way.

Create Smart Minds

Children who play outside learn how to solve real life problems better than children who are always in their rooms playing video games or secluding themselves. Regardless of if they’re learning how to get along with friends or trying to figure out the best way to build a fort – they’re problem solving.

Provide Vitamin D

Children need Vitamin D, which we can get from the sun. Vitamin D helps promote better moods, energy levels, memory and overall health. Spending only 10 - 15 minutes out in the sun gives our children their daily dose of Vitamin D.

So, it doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter outside. Playing outside is a great way to help our children reap all of the benefits of nature at once. We of course don’t recommend sending our children outside in dangerous conditions (like a blizzard).  But if it’s nice outside, then bundle the kids up and let them play outside!  Even in winter months, we believe as the Swedes do:  There is no such thing as bad (or bitter cold) weather – just bad clothes.   

Polarn O. Pyret

Lee, J., Park, B.-J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Ohra, T., Kagawa, T., Miyazaki, Y. 2011. Effect of forest bathing on physiological and psychological responses in young Japanese male subjects. Public Health. 125(2): 93-100. 12 September 2016.

Li, Q. 2010. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9-17. 12 September 2016. 

Oskar ElmgartTreebath