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Why Outdoor Play Boosts Productivity and Development

It’s no secret that kids love heading for the playground as soon as they’re released for recess. It’s one part of their school day that’s within their control — they can play with their friends, be creative, and take a break from studying. However, recess is more than just a fun break. Regular outdoor play is integral in a student’s development and often leads to improved academic performance inside the classroom.

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Benefits of Outdoor Recess

Many students look forward to recess all day long — but playgrounds serve as more than a pleasant break from the classroom. They encourage children to be active while engaging in helpful socialization with one another. Playgrounds and recess are also where many students begin to form their identity and develop essential life skills.

Playgrounds at schools are beneficial to students in a variety of ways, offering physical, social, and mental benefits.

1. Physical Activity

According to a study conducted by a journal of child and adolescent health in conjunction with the World Health Organization, 81% of elementary-age students don’t engage in enough physical activity. With childhood obesity on the rise, it’s more important than ever to help students develop a strong foundation for daily exercise.

Playgrounds encourage children to engage in active play and build important motor skills, like:

  • Balance
  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Speed
  • Reaction time
  • Strength

The playground is also where many students find a natural talent or interest in sports or exercise, which encourages them to pursue those interests outside of school hours.

2. Social Development

The ability to navigate group settings is crucial for the social development of a child. Playgrounds offer an equal meeting place for children of different backgrounds and experiences to come together. In one survey, 95% of teachers agreed that recess improves their students’ social interactions. Through play, children learn how to communicate with their peers and learn valuable skills, such as:

  • Compromise
  • Understanding
  • Compassion
  • Conflict resolution
  • Language
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Sharing
  • Self-regulation

Children carry these social skills into their teenage and adult years. The more social skills a child has, the better they can express themselves. According to some psychologists, children who develop a strong social foundation at a young age are more likely to overcome challenges and understand when and how to ask for help as they get older. Those social relationships also translate into the classroom, where students learn how to interact with teachers and peers in a more productive, respectful way.

3. Mental Health

Time on the playground also offers kids numerous emotional and cognitive benefits. In terms of emotional well-being, playtime outside can help kids:

  • Process their emotions
  • Boost their mood
  • Foster their natural sense of curiosity
  • Develop their sense of self
  • Raise their confidence

Getting creative on the playground and making up a game other kids enjoy can leave a child feeling proud and with a more positive self-image, for instance. These positive experiences are crucial for kids.

The mental health benefits don’t stop there, either. They translate directly into a child’s success in the classroom, as play benefits productivity and academic performance. This benefit alone is enough reason for schools to prioritize recess.

How Outdoor Play Improves Productivity and Academic Performance

Recess has taken a backseat for school districts across the country due to increased educational mandates, yet research shows that recess can have a positive effect on students’ academic achievement. The physical and social benefits of recess can contribute to a child’s overall health and well-being, which can have far-reaching effects that include school performance. But when it comes to the cognitive benefits of recess, we can draw a more direct line between recess and improvements in the classroom.

Let’s consider some of the ways that playtime helps kids be better students.

1. Higher Levels of Focus

Think about the last time you concentrated on a particular task for a long time without pause. Chances are, you felt overwhelmed, possibly even discouraged. Regular breaks are essential for absorbing and retaining information, and students who get to participate in recess often demonstrate higher levels of focus than those who don’t. Rather than their brains becoming fatigued from information overload in the classroom, kids get a break to rest their brains and have fun.

It makes sense, then, that 78% of teachers agree their students are more focused and ready to learn when they return from recess. Various studies have supported this notion. A study of fifth-grade students found daily recess led to a significant increase in students staying on-task in the classroom. Similarly, a study of third through fifth graders found recess enabled students to maintain sustained attention in class more effectively. Researchers even consider whether multiple breaks throughout the school day could lead to an even more increased focus in students.

2. A More Positive Outlook

Another way outdoor play is helping productivity in students is by improving mood and making stress more manageable. Today, students often feel an overwhelming amount of pressure in school, whether it’s from parents, teachers, coaches, or even pressure they place on themselves. This stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as cheating or refusal to participate in activities. It can also cause burnout and low academic performance.

Outdoor play is a regularly scheduled break in this stress that students look forward to. It gives children a chance to pause, think clearly, and enjoy engaging with their peers and the world around them. Physical activity and exercise release endorphins and hormones that alleviate the adverse side effects of stress and promote healthy self-esteem. When kids have this outlet during the school day, they can feel refreshed and renew their motivation to learn when they reenter the classroom.

3. Fewer Behavioral Distractions

Another potential benefit of outdoor recess is a reduction in behavioral issues in the classroom, which can be extremely disruptive. In one survey, teachers estimated that behavioral disruptions reduced instructional time by 144 minutes per week. That adds up to nearly 15 days lost every academic year. In this same survey, 62% of teachers and around half of school administrators and support specialists identified inadequate playtime and recreation as a major contributor to these behavioral issues in the classroom.

Behavioral issues can arise from a variety of factors, but many of these factors are exhausted by long hours spent indoors without recess. When children are given recess as a positive outlet, they’re more likely to be productive, attentive students who contribute to a positive learning environment for all. Less time spent on managing behavioral problems means more time on instruction and improved academic outcomes.

4. More Learning Opportunities

Recess can also help kids connect their learning to the real world — especially when it comes to science and social studies. Outdoor play is an excellent opportunity for children to interact with nature. In a society where screen time is a growing concern, the time children are spending outdoors is less than it was years ago.

Nature is full of valuable lessons, especially for young learners. Nature also stimulates a child’s senses, enriching their view of the world — they can hear the birds sing, smell the flowers bloom, and feel the wind blow. The more time a child spends playing outdoors, the more likely they are to grow into responsible and environmentally conscious adults.

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Engaging in regular outdoor play helps children develop essential life skills, including the ability to socialize and overcome challenges. Playgrounds promote outdoor play and are an easy way to keep children physically active while combatting stress and improving focus inside the classroom.

Little Tikes Commercial provides more than playgrounds — we help parents and educators provide children with memorable, formative experiences. Our playgrounds are designed to engage children in fun and interactive ways, with no compromise to the safety and durability of our products. Every piece of equipment is rigorously tested to meet and exceed safety standards.

To learn more about Little Tikes Commercial playgrounds and equipment, find a representative near you.