Spring is Here: Send the Kids Outside to Play

Posted April 6, 2011 by

Spring has arrived, along with daylight savings time. Now is the time to get the kids out of the house. This sounds simple, but in today’s world it isn’t. A study done by the University of San Diego showed that children age 9 spend an average of three hours a day outside, but by age 15 that is down to 45 minutes a day — and only 35 minutes a day on weekends. These trends are going the wrong way. Children need to be outside for body and spirit.

Spending time outside lets a kid be a kid. It allows them to use their imagination, get dirty, be independent, spend time with others and get some exercise. This is what kids are suppose to do, and have done for centuries. It is only within the last 40 years that, instead of being outside, kids are glued to the TV screen or pounding away at computer games. We need to get back to basics. In 2006, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg told Congress that, “Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles. Play helps children develop new competencies, and the resiliencey they will need to face future challenges.”

Certainly this is not as easy as it was for past generations, when kids were told to go out and just be home before the street lights went on. Sadly, safety is a major concern for many families, but it can’t be an excuse. For many parents this will require some effort, but getting the kids outside so they can do what kids need to do is a must.


John McPherson is a leadership and management consultant in Salinas, CA. John and his wife Christina have two children, Fiona and Carson. Both John and Christina’s parents had a great influence in their upbringing, which helped them define how they would parent their children. Over the past ten years, John observed how many parenting practices have strayed from the principles he and Christina have found to be successful, and this led him to write a book on parenting, entitled "Ten Simple Rules for Being a Parent in a World Turned Upside Down".

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  1. ck Report

    I agree that children these days are getting their childhood “robbed away” from them, because of some parents’ increasing emphasis on academic achievement. As such, they believe that play is a waste of precious time that could be spent doing something more productive (i.e. preparing the child for better academic performance!)

    However, what most parents do not realize is that when child’s play are being taken away, what they fail to gain is important social-emotional skills that play affords to children of all ages. During play, children learn important social skills like how to interact with others in a group, how to communicate their wants and needs, etc. On top of that, they learn a great deal about emotional regulation (not to throw tantrums just because their needs are not met etc.), about taking a third-person perspective, etc. – and all these are precious lessons that children don’t learn in classrooms/textbooks.

    More importantly, free play gives children opportunities to participate in exploratory activities and this helps to develop their intellectual abilities, and facilitates the development of creativity and thought processes too.

    There has been abundant research done on how play, especially between long periods of focused academic time (i.e. in classrooms), helps children to focus better after. Some of these research include the cognitive benefits of unstructured play and/or recess. Because children have a limited cognitive capacity, they have great difficulty focusing when this limit has been exceeded. Thus, play takes their mind off work, and refuels their cognitive capacity for better focus after.

  2. Elisabeth, EP Editor Report

    Great blog post, John. Kids need time outdoors to unwind and not think about things, just like we do. I think we spend too much time directing our kids in activities these days, and not enough just letting them be. My 8 y.o. son had some friends over recently who, it seemed, didn’t know how to play. They kept waiting for me to set up things for them to do. It really made me realize that we need to let kids be kids a bit more.



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