6 Life Skills Kids Learn from Playing Outdoors

Outdoor play has a particular element of risk, which can be beneficial in childhood development. Exploring and having unstructured outdoor play benefit those children who are natural risk-takers. Others are not comfortable taking many risks, but outdoor play offers the space to test out new things on their own time.

When children learn to take on risks around them, they learn invaluable life skills and support a child’s emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development. 

Studies have shown that students who learn outdoors develop a strong sense of place and learn observation and problem-solving skills.  Outdoor adventures also build confidence, teach teamwork, and how to persevere. (1)

The list of benefits is long and demonstrates how important it is to encourage children to explore the outdoor world around them.

Sense of Place – Being outdoors brings a better understanding of a child’s natural and human communities.  When connected to place, children have shown to develop stronger environmental attitudes and civic behaviors. Creating this sense of place lets children know they belong in their physical space and in the social and cultural world they share with others around them. A sense of place gives a sense of belonging.

Young children come equipped with a lot of curiosity and explore the world with their five senses. They explore and manipulate materials around them to understand the larger world.

Observation Skills – When exploring a trail, a child becomes an explorer and biologist.  They begin to investigate that rotting tree and observe what creatures rely on it to survive.  We can encourage them to think like animals, see how different plants grow in a different light and remember lookup. These observation skills just might help them become great managers of a team or project.

Critical Problem-solving – Many challenges appear when trekking across the vast expanses of a local park or wooded area.  A small creek that needs to be crossed brings many options, such as finding the best rock to stop on, or would using the log be a better option? Allowing children to figure it out on their own develop valuable critical problem-solving skills that benefit them throughout their entire lives.

Build Confidence – Outdoor adventures are a great way to build confidence and allow children to experience what it means to be successful.  It might be climbing a tree, taking a long hike, or rafting down a river.  Each activity has its challenges to overcome, and the reward at the end will stay with them forever. And isn’t it great to hear the words, “I did it!”?

Building confidence also develops a creative mindset as their imaginations are allowed to blossom.

Teamwork and Negotiation – Group activities allow children to work on their teamwork skills.  Maybe they work together to move a large boulder to see what is underneath or negotiate who will be the one to pick up the critter they just found.  There are many opportunities for the impromptu pickup game of baseball or freeze tag with the neighborhood children.

Perseverance – Children tend to go just to the point of their own abilities.

With our care, they can learn to take calculated risks in a safe environment. With this new courage, they have the skill to persevere as they move into adulthood. They are tenacious in most things and keep trying until they master a task. Ever learn to skip rocks over a lake? They will also work towards a goal and reach them without the resources we have available to us as adults.

This is just a shortlist of the benefits children gain from outdoor play. So, it’s time to put down the electronics and head outside.  The location is up to you!

(1) Chawla, L. (2006). Learning to love the natural world enough to protect it. Barn, 2, 57-58. Barn is a quarterly published by the Norwegian Centre for Child Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

This article is available at Kellert, S.R. (2005).

(1) Nature and childhood development.” In Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Full book available via and other commercial sources.

(1) Lester, S., & Maudsley, M. (2006). Play, naturally: A review of children's natural play. Children's Play Council.

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