Growing Up TAPS: The Power of Outdoor Play

Author: Andy McNiel


Spend Time Outside to Balance Screen Time


Raising children today comes with the added challenge of technology — in the form of television, computers, tablets, and phones — competing for their attention. These devices offer 24/7 access to social media, games, movies, and other forms of entertainment. While technology has improved our lives in many ways, research shows that too much screen time can harm children’s well-being. This research specifically indicates that video games, social media, and other technologies are addictive and are associated with depression, anxiety, and aggression in children. 

It is important to balance technology use — or screen time, as it’s often called — with activities that are proven to have a positive effect on children’s overall health and well-being. One of the most accessible ways to do this is to carve out time for our children to play outdoors.


Good Grief Camp Boy Swinging

Good Grief Camp Girl at Playground


Physical Health


Outdoor play often requires physical movement, which helps our children build and maintain healthy muscle strength. Physical activity can also result in a healthier body mass index (BMI), which, in turn, impacts the health of our heart, lungs, and other important internal functions. But the benefits don't stop there, research also indicates that sunlight and nature support positive hormone production, leading to positive physical health. Limiting screen time and scheduling outdoor playtime can help to balance out some of the potential negative impacts of too much screen time.


Mental and Emotional Well-Being


Spending time outside doesn't just impact our children's physical health. Research tells us that being outdoors also promotes healthy mental and emotional regulation. While we may not fully understand what exactly it is about being outdoors that is good for our children's mental and emotional well-being, studies show that children who spend time outdoors are happier, less anxious, and more attentive to their surroundings. They also tend to do better in school. Other positive impacts of regular outdoor playtime include improved creativity and imagination, a better ability to regulate emotions, and a heightened sense of joy.


Good Grief Camp Youth in Trees

Good Grief Camp Boy and Mentor blowing bubbles


Spiritual Formation


Being in nature, whether in your own backyard, at a nearby park, at the beach, or on a scenic trail — anything accessible to you, activates our children's sense of awe and calls them to contemplate the world and their place in it. This helps give our children a sense of connection; it helps them find meaning; and it helps them achieve personal growth.

All of these positive impacts on our children's perspectives about themselves, others, and the world around them can counter negative messages they might be exposed to on social media and other outlets that contradict values that we, as parents and guardians, want to instill in our children.


Positive Social Development


In many cases, when our children are outside, they are encountering other people. Although technology does keep our children connected with their friends through social media and video games, those connections cannot replace in-person interactions, using their imaginations, and inventing activities to do with friends and family outdoors — which all support positive social development in our children. Research tells us that children who play outdoors feel more positive about their relationships with others and learn social cues that teach them how to interact with people of all ages. 

Our access to the outdoors might be limited based on where we live, the weather, or other factors outside of our control. No matter our circumstances, being outdoors — in whatever way we can — will positively impact our children’s well-being. As we move into the summer season and the weather invites us to be outdoors, make plans to take advantage of all the benefits the outdoors can offer. 


Good Grief Camp Teen playing basketball

Good Grief Camp Girl at Playground


Mentors and Good Grief Camp Kids

TAPS Youth Programs

TAPS Youth Programs can support you and your children through grief with age-appropriate activities — including plenty of outdoor activities at Good Grief Camps and Family Camps. Check out all the ways our Youth Programs team can support your family.

Andy McNiel, MA, is the Senior Advisor, TAPS Youth Programs.

Photos: TAPS Archives