If you think back to your own childhood, chances are you'll remember your parents shooing you out on sunny days (and maybe not-so-sunny ones) to 'get some fresh air'. And they were on to something - outside play is good for all of us but is especially important for children. Studies have found that outdoor play helps children develop their vision (focusing on objects in the far distance - plus natural light - helps strengthen the eye muscles and reduces the risk of myopia, or short-sightedness), while others found that typical outdoor activities, such as jumping over puddles and balancing on logs, help your child develop essential fine motor skills, core strength and co-ordination. And researchers say that just five minutes of outdoor play ('green exercise') improves a child's mental wellbeing and self-esteem.
The great outdoors helps to boost our immunity, too. Paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Diana Flynn puts it this way: "Our bodies evolved with the natural world; indeed, the health benefits of gardening are well-documented," she says. "Many of the most fundamental things we need to be healthy and happy come from nature - bacteria, bugs and fungi are essential for a healthy microbiome (the collection of micro organisms that live in our bodies). Doctors are beginning to investigate treating chronic disease using bacteria, parasites and soil rather than antibiotics - spending time in nature boosts our immune system immeasurably."
So send your kids outside and let them play around to their hearts' content - then throw all their clothes in the washing machine when you get home. Modern washing liquid or powder formulations are gentle on skin, while others restore clothes to their former glory while removing germs up to 99.9%, such as Ariel Power Gel. So the dirtiest outdoor play is no threat - everybody wins!
4 great ways to play outside
1. Rolling down the hill
It really is about the simple things: there's something truly magical about watching the unabashed pleasure children get from scrambling up a grassy slope and rolling down it again. Kids LOVE this game and it's a great way for them to 'connect' with the earth - literally!
2. Jumping horses
This is a good one to play on a walk when the little ones are getting tired and dragging their feet. Choose something along the pathway - it could be a stick on the ground, a puddle or even someone's shadow - and pretend to be horses jumping over it. They'll magically forget they feel tired and before you know it, you'll have reached your destination - harrumphing all the way!
3. Going on a hunt
Take inspiration from this beloved children's classic and set out on an adventure through long swishy grass and the deep dark woods to see what you can find! Take pencils and a notepad to draw insects and leaves, or a camera to record your discoveries - and don't forget to pack a picnic. Happy days!
4. Planting seeds
Gardening combines light exercise with an outdoor environment to stimulate our senses and boost our wellbeing. The whole family can get involved - even very young children can help to fill a pot with soil and sprinkle in some seeds. Gardening helps teach children about where food comes from, too - nothing beats the satisfaction of growing your own veggies - and means we get a good dose of vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones. Just 10 or 15 minutes a day is enough, so get out first thing with arms and legs exposed before applying sunscreen as the sun gets stronger.
How do you and your family enjoy playing outside? Share your ideas in the comment section below.