Benefits of encouraging screen-free outdoor play

December 13, 2018 Published by

Updated May 5th 2021

To mark screen-free week, we want to celebrate the wonderful benefits of outdoor play and look at why taking a ‘natural detox’ can be so important for our children’s development. 

Play helps children to be creative, learn problem-solving skills and develop a sense of curiosity. In particular, free and active child-led play equips children with a range of skills and helps them to be physically and mentally healthy.

There is room for lots of different types of play in your child’s development. However, it’s important to remember that children don’t separate playing on a screen from playing in the real world – to them, it’s all just play. This is why it’s our job as parents and caregivers to make sure they’re engaging in a variety of different activities. 

Balancing the play diet 

It’s easy as parents to feel pressured about the amount of screen time children are allowed and at times, it may feel like a battle to get children interested in anything other than their tablets or mobile phones. 

Screens have become more and more integrated into everyday life and we shouldn’t feel like we have to forbid them, as they have their place in play (and increasingly education too) and can help your child develop important skills. However, screen-based play can tend to be solitary and passive, and with their nose buried in a screen all the time, they miss out on seeing the world! 

As with many things, moderation is the best way forward. The Play Diet Pyramid is something you can use to make sure your child is getting a healthy balance of different play activities is important, much in the same way that they get a healthy balance of different food groups. 

The benefits of outdoor and active play 

Active, social, child-led play is considered the ‘fruit and veg’ of the Play Diet and so it’s not really possible to have too much of it! It allows children to develop important skills including problem-solving, creativity, and making friends. 

The value children get from playing outdoors and connecting to nature is huge. Whether it’s structured learning, or free play, getting outside makes for healthier and happier minds.

Through exploring the outdoors and engaging in different types of outdoor play, children learn about the world around them and in doing that, learn about themselves.

For example, climbing a tree builds confidence and self-esteem, while falling and scraping a knee promotes resilience. 

How can outdoor play act as a natural detox? 

Getting outdoors can be the perfect opportunity to leave screens behind and have a natural digital detox. Exposure to nature can have a soothing effect on children by bringing stress and anxiety levels down, this is because spending time in green spaces reduces levels of the “stress hormone”, cortisol in the brain. 

Sunlight also allows our bodies to produce Vitamin D, which is important because it releases the “happy hormone”, serotonin in the brain which helps to regulate mood and emotions.

Playing outdoors is particularly useful for Vitamin D levels, as they are not found in many of our foods, unlike other vitamins. 

Natural light is also what helps to regulate our biological clock, which is beneficial for children’s immune system and helps them to have a healthy sleep pattern. Having the freedom to run around benefits this too, as it allows children to let off steam and air their frustrations. 

Stepping out of the normal routine is also a great opportunity to develop new habits, and that goes for all the family. It is all too easy to sit down and automatically check our phone, which can get in the way of making real connections and engaging with friends and family. 

Research has found that spending time away from screens in nature can help improve children’s ability to read the emotional expressions of others.

This may be because outdoor play encourages them to collaborate, which requires empathy in recognising other’s opinions and feelings and negotiating accordingly. This is great for their emotional development because it equips them with skills to communicate effectively and deal with conflict in the future.



Taking a break from technology can renew everyone’s appreciation for the small things, whether that’s the first sign of bluebells or an exciting game of Hide and Seek. Commit to spending some quality time together, where no one uses screens (and that goes for adults too).

Think of the great outdoors as an easy to access, natural detox. It is unmatched in the creative potential it has for your child’s play and is shown to scientifically benefit us all.

By giving children time out to have fun playing outdoors and even enjoying some outdoors play yourself, we can provide our families with valuable life skills and benefit all of our mental health and wellbeing.

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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