9 reasons to make your kids play when it's cold outside

Posted October 2

Unstructured play for our children is seen as unnecessary in a world stressed about hitting all milestones on time. So here are nine reasons to let your kids play. (Deseret Photo)

As a parent I feel like I’m being bombarded with making sure that my children are hitting every milestone on time. The clock starts ticking the moment they are born, making sure they’re pulling themselves up by 9 months, crawling by 11 months, walking by 13 months, 20-50 words by age 2, full sentences by age 3, and so on (CDC, 2016). With the pressure on academics, recesses are being cut and free time is dwindling. Children are spending half as much time outside compared to children in the ’80s, according to Juster, Ono & Stafford, 2004.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (2008) has recommended 60 minutes of unstructured free play daily, stating that it is fundamental to physical and mental health. So I am throwing out the challenge of letting our children have more unstructured play time outside, even when it is cold. I started with my kids by reducing screen time (television, movie watching and computer gaming), starting with 20 minutes each day. They already spent quite a bit of time outside normally, but I figured reducing screen time and increasing outside time is all around helpful. It’s more work, but also a lot more entertaining. Here are nine reasons we need to make sure our kids get to play:

1. Social skills

Social skills are not just learning to play well with others. They are also language and communication development. As your children play with others in different levels of development, they will cultivate new skills along with learning to teach others new skills.

2. Build confidence

Childhood play is practice for the outside world. So the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be using these skills. Often play starts with repeating concepts and then slowly gets modified into more complex scenarios that they can apply to multiple future situations.

3. Physical expertise

As our children’s bodies grow, their motor skills change as well. So as they play they learn new things they can do with their bodies, like jump on one foot, pick tiny shells off the beach or stick their tongues out.

4. Curiosity

Think of your kids as little scientists and free time is the laboratory. As they conduct their experiments (usually at the expense of our clean floors) they are learning the basic principles of life. We see spaghetti splattering on our clean floor for the hundredth time, but they are watching velocity and acceleration in real-life situations.

5. Learn decision-making

As they make decisions in their play, they learn positive and negative consequences. The beautiful aspect of this is that these consequences are fleeting. They can often try the situation over again and make a different choice, resulting in a new consequence. They get the opportunity to see the situation from multiple views; the building blocks of decision-making. This is the foundation for when adults list all the options and then choose the best one.

6. Bonding

Some adults have a hard time playing, either because they lost the skill or they never learned it as a child. Play is one of the best ways to create attachment between children and their parents. It is important as the adult to let go and be silly. You are creating loving memories with them, along with helping them establish trust with a caring figure.

7. Test boundaries

If your kids are anything like mine, they like to see how far they can push their boundaries. Testing boundaries is a normal childhood phenomenon and can actually create a sense of safety. As children push and adults skillfully show them when they are out of line, there is a sense that the adults will guide and catch them if they fall in their journey. Slowy they learn how to make mistakes and repair them with less and less guidance, eventually becoming the guide.

8. Patience

Fun activities with others can really test your patience; waiting in line, giving out equal snacks or communicating with younger playmates. Learning to stay calm and resolve conflict is a fundamental skill. Free play with new and different people will promote understanding and empathy.

9. Enjoyment

Children are just like adults in that we need hobbies and down time to reset our brains. This gives us time to relax and relieve the stressors of life. Play can hit a new level of happiness if both parent and child are able to savor this freeing and mindful experience.

Now that you know why, it is time to get outside with those kids and enjoy the changing weather.

Jessie Shepherd, MA, LCMHC is a Mental Health Therapist at Blue Clover Therapy, LLC in Utah. Learn more at


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