The benefits of outdoor play

Contact with nature improves the most important aspects of a healthy childhood – immunization, memory, sleep, learning abilities, sociability, physical abilities – and adds a significant contribution to the whole well-being of children and youth. Evidence shows that the benefits are mutual: just as children and teenagers need nature, nature needs children and youth (Alana’s Children and Nature and Brazilian Pediatrics Society Program, 2019).

Use of all senses


Nature play encourages creativity. Toys are invented and reinvented through the materials found during play: a stick becomes a sword, a leaf becomes a boat… Studies on schoolchildren show that children play more creatively and cooperatively in the green school grounds (Health Education Research, 2008).

More active and exploratory learning

Studies in the United States show a significant improvement in student performance, in various fields of knowledge, in schools that provide learning opportunities outside the classroom (American Institutes for Research, 2005).

Read the Unwalling Childhood publication for an in depth analysis of the benefits of nature in school grounds.

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Strengthens social bonds


Children who regularly play outside in an unstructured and independently manner are healthier, happier, and more capable of living with others  (JAMA Pediatrics, 2005).

Inspires moments of concentration

Besides offering an experience of beauty, access to nature increases emotional balance and self-control in urban youngsters (Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2002).


Encourages physical activity


Children that play in natural environments are more physically active, more conscientious of their eating habits, and more caring towards others (Health Education Research, 2008).

Contributes to the prevention of violence

Experience and common sense, as well as theory and research, show that as public spaces and territories are occupied – and children playing and walking are highly appropriate uses – violence and vandalism decrease (Veríssimo, 2012 and Kondo et al, 2015).

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Children’s integral development

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Nature is important to every aspect of childhood development: intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical (North Carolina State University, 2012).

For more information, see these infographics on the benefits of playing and learning in nature within schools:

Infographic: School is a place test yourself in movement

Infographic: School is a place for meeting and feeling well

Infographic: School is a place for feeling, meaning and interest

Infographic: School is a place for play

Offers clear health benefits

Contact with nature can significantly reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (Journal of Attention Disorders, 2008), stress (Environment and Behavior, 2003), and childhood obesity.

The Guide on the Benefits of Nature for the Development of Children and Adolescents, created by the Brazilian Pediatrics Society in partnership with Alana’s Children and Nature program, gives an extensive analysis of this issue and offers recommendations for pediatricians, families and educators.


Improves nutrition


Children that plant their own food (Environmental Education Research, 2008) are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, have a greater understanding of nutrition (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2002), and are more likely to keep healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives (Hort Technology, 2006).

Contributes to nature conservation

A child that spends time outdoors and develops an affinity for nature will appreciate and care for the world around them, since they recognize it and respect it as an environment to which they belong (The Journal of Developmental Processes, 2009).

For an extensive analysis and revision on this theme, see: Home to Us All: How Connecting with Nature Helps Us Care for Ourselves and the Earth.

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Encourages critical and conscientious consumption


Children that grow up in contact with nature are more likely to develop a foundation of concrete, direct and real experiences, based on values different from the logic of consumerism, leaning more on affection, natural beauty and simplicity.

Develops skills and resilience

As we interact with the natural environment, we learn to evaluate risks and take them, to fall and get back up, to get hurt and persist from an early age. Letting children play outdoors offers a variety of situations in which they will have the autonomy to choose the risks they want to take, and to manage them and learn from them. This way the child will become a more confident and resilient adult, capable of dealing with life’s challenges (Herrington & Pickett, 2015).

For more information on the benefits of the risks present in free interaction with nature, visit the content related to the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) on Taking Risks in Play and in Learning.