Outdoor playtime is every kid's happy place, and with the weather getting warmer and summer approaching, it's time to start setting up the Slip-N-Slide and get the the kids out of the house — finally. There's no doubt that exploring through nature and playing outside in the sunshine with their friends, siblings, and cousins is beneficial to our little ones. But how do you know if your child is spending enough time outdoors? Turns out, there are some signs your toddler needs to play outside more that you can look for.
Let's be honest, it's really easy to just keep the kids in the house during those long winter months. Especially if you're a family who doesn't have access to a backyard. But what does spending too much time indoors do to ours kids besides giving them (and us) cabin fever? I checked in with some of The Genius of Play experts — pediatric occupational therapist, Keri Wilmot, child psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, and Ellen Metrick, a human factors expert to see what some of the signs are. While it's basically impossible for kids to spend too much time playing outside, it is very possible — and probably a little too easy — for our kids to get used to things indoors.
1. They Aren't Meeting Gross Motor Milestones
Being cooped up in the house doesn't exactly give kids the space they need to climb, run, jump, and explore safely. Wilmot tells Romper, "[Occupational Therapists] are trained to observe and evaluate children with regard to their developmental motor and sensory milestones, and oftentimes we see that there are some children who do not have the same abilities to run, jump, climb, and complete motor activities in the same way their peers or siblings do."
If this sounds like your child, not to worry. There are things you can do to help them become more active and bring your child's motor skills up to speed — no pun intended. "Outside play and active, physical play in general is often a recommendation that as OTs we make to parents so they can help their kids improve their motor skills."
2. They Get Tired Or Frustrated Easily
Kids love to play outside, so it's no wonder that they can run around for hours. But if your little one may need some help with endurance, playing outdoors can help. "Some children are weak, and do not have good endurance to keep up with friends, so they might be tired, get frustrated easily, and avoid certain activities," says Wilmot.
When it comes to outdoor play, let them spend as much time as they want outside. "It’s difficult to get too much time outside — as long as they’re wearing the right clothes and are safe, keep them outside as long as possible," Gummer tells Romper.
3. They Need To Improve Their Coordination
If your child has trouble with coordination, they may need some extra hours outdoors. "Some kids also struggle with coordination and the ability to complete games with accuracy or precision," says Wilmot.
4. They Have A Short Attention Span
This one is tricky because kids in general have a short attention span. Heck, even adults struggle with their attention span. But children who spend too much time indoors may not be challenged enough and may need other types of play. Wilmot says, "So for some kids who may move quickly from one activity to another, or might be having meltdowns and tantrums, sometimes a break to play outside or play in a more active way can help them re-engage for a longer period of time."
5. They Have Difficulty Regulating Their Emotions
I think every mom can relate to this one. Epic tantrums may be a sign your toddler needs to run off some steam and get out into the fresh air. Wilmot says, "Outdoor play and physical play, even if it’s only for a short period of time for 15 to 20 minutes, not only helps kids stretch their muscles and improve their strength, but it can have an impact on their ability to self-regulate and manage their emotions."
Metrick explains this in detail to Romper. "Toddlers don’t yet have the language and cognitive development to rationally explain what they are feeling and why. It comes out in their actions," she says. "Children who have been inside and need a change of scenery or more space to move may act out their frustration by throwing tantrums. They also may try to stretch and move in spaces that are not conducive to gross motor play that can lead to injury or undesired incidents." We have all been victim to an epic toddler tantrum, but the good news is, getting them outside may help. Even if it's totally embarrassing when your kid decides to have one out of the house.
6. They Aren't Sleeping Well Or Eating Well
Remember those days of playing outside in the sun all day and coming back into the house starving and exhausted? When kids aren't hungry at meal times or aren't sleeping well, it could be a sign that they need to get out more. Gummer says, "Young children who don’t get sufficient exercise may display a number of behaviors including not eating properly at meal times [or] playing with food, being restless and not being able to concentrate, not settling at bedtime or sleeping through the night — this can lead to them being tired, which leads to them being overly prone to tantrums to tears."
7. Lethargic Or Uninterested In Anything
Depending on the child and their mood that day, of course, not having enough play time outside could have the opposite effect and make them more tired. Metrick says, "Kids who stay indoors may become very lethargic and uninterested in anything. The fresh air of outdoor play may help get them moving and having fun." Outdoor play has so many benefits for your kid's health, happiness, and wellbeing, so get them and yourself outside as much as possible.