Why playing outdoors is GREAT for your children

Playing outside isn't just fun - it boosts physical and emotional health, too. Here's how to make the most of the great outdoors.

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.

Here's why...

It helps with development

Studies have found that outdoor play helps children develop their vision, as focusing on objects in the far distance - plus natural light - helps strengthen the eye muscles and reduces the risk of myopia, or short-sightedness.

Typical outdoor activities, such as jumping over puddles and balancing on logs, also help your child develop essential fine motor skills, core strength and co-ordination. Plus vitamin D - aka the "sunshine vitamin" - helps build strong bones and teeth.

And it's not just great physically - researchers say that just five minutes of outdoor play improves a child's wellbeing and self-esteem.

It keeps bugs at bay

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. 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," she continues, concluding: "Spending time in nature boosts our immune system immeasurably."

Don't be afraid to get messy

So send your kids outside and let them grub around to their hearts' content - then throw all their clothes in the washing machine along with an Ariel 3in1 Pod.

As well as cleaning off any mud and stains, the special pods contain [BOLD] brighteners, which will help restore the clothes to their former glory.

For more on how to get clothes super clean and fresh, check out our article on the Top 12 stain removal tips for clothes.

And here are four 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 bear hunt
Take inspiration from the 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, if weather allows, don't forget to pack a picnic.

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. Check out our article on Gardening projects for kids for ideas of how to get them involved.

Gardening helps teach children about where food comes from, too - nothing beats the satisfaction of growing your own veggies, and it means they're more likely to actually eat them!

For more ideas on how to encourage your little one to get excited about the great outdoors, check out our article on Five ways to get your kids into nature.

How do you and your family enjoy playing outside? Share your ideas in the comment section below.