Play Outside, Do Better in School

Jessica P August 13, 2013

Studies show that the amount of time spent outdoors coorelates to school performance. Do your kids play outside enough? 

By Jessica Peterman, Contributing Writer

Last fall, our family of 5 moved from a postage stamp lot in the city, to almost 3 acres a few miles outside of town. It was a dream come true for us. You see, we’re big on the outdoors. Gardening, hiking, dining alfresco. We just like to be outside. Especially out in nature.

That’s not to say we didn’t spend time outdoors when we lived in the city. We had our own little garden space in our small yard, a table on the back porch where I sat with my morning coffee, and we spent many evenings on our big front porch, watching the thunderstorms. But by default, we just spend more time outside now.

And I’ve noticed some wonderful things.

My kids are excelling and growing like they never had before. But I’m just one mom. We’re just one family. So I thought I’d do a little research. And you know what — the studies out there back up what I’ve noticed in my own family.

Time Outside is Dwindling

A quick Google search will show that there are quite a few studies out there devoted to the correlation between how much kids play outside and a student’s educational performance. The majority of these site the decline in outdoor play, particularly in green, natural spaces over the last few decades. I’m sure you don’t need me to convince you of that. It’s all to easy for a child to go through the week sitting 7 hours a day in a classroom, an hour or two sitting at the kitchen table finishing homework, and spend the remaining hours in front of a screen of some kind. Even for homeschooled kids (as mine are) it seems the indoor options tend to outweigh the outdoor ones.

Part of this has to be related to the decline of a more agrarian society. When families were raising most of their own food, and caring for their animals and livestock, everyone — kids included — spent time outside tending to these necessities. Almost without thinking, we’ve retreated indoors. Indoors for learning, indoors to buy and prepare our food, indoors to work and earn a living. It’s just a whole different way of life than our great great grandmothers knew.

My youngest, hard at work.

Play Outside to Improve Learning

For the sake of our kids, and their futures, it’s time to fight the tide. We’d all say that we want our children to have the best chance they can, educationally. So if we were told that getting them outside, out in nature, would improve their ability to learn, wouldn’t we make that a priority?

Studies show that time outside, particularly active time, improves memory, focus and concentration, problem solving skills, fine motor skills and creativity. That’s a serious list of bonuses!

According to several reports, like this one from the National Wildlife Federation, outdoor play can help kids with everything from attention spans to aggressive behavior to test scores.

At my own house, if my kids get bogged down on an assignment and frustration is building, I will frequently send them outside to jog around the house a few times or take a short play break. The fresh air and activity help bust through the cobwebs and settle their emotions.

Time Playing Outside Improves Health

Physical activity, fresh air, sunshine–they all play a role in keeping our kids healthy. Kids who are less physically fit are often lethargic and have trouble concentrating or focusing. Many of the children in our nation have a vitamin D deficiency, which is key in helping our immune system fight off and recover from illnesses. If our kids are sick, learning is going to take a backseat.

But a child who is spending regular time playing outside is getting exercise for their lungs, heart and muscles, as well as vitamin D from the sunshine. I’ve seen the difference in my kids health this year as they’ve increased their time outside. And healthier kids mean less sick days.

But What If I Live In The City?

So is all this time out in nature just for the country kids? Of course not. Though I will admit you will probably have to be more intentional about it. When we lived in town, we’d take frequent trips to a nearby park–playing on the playground, walking the trail, pestering the ducks. Play a games with your children outside, invest in a few outdoor toys, or take up bike riding together as a family.

It’s still possible to get them unplugged and outdoors, no matter where you live.

Do you notice a difference in your kids when they play outside? What do you do to make outdoor play a priority?

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Mother of three great kids and wife to the handiest man around. My life and my work have become what I've always dreamed of. Lover of Jesus, my family, homeschooling, real food, leading worship at my church...and coffee. I blog at Redeeming the Home to encourage myself and other to "make the most of what's most important."


  1. If you want a good book to read on this subject check out “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from nature deficit disorder”. It is an excellent read.


    • I second that! Although, to be completely honest – I didn’t have a chance to finish it. What I did read about it, though, was quite good. I got turned on to it by reading Boys Adrift, which talks about 5 factors that are contributing to unmotivated/underachieving boys and men – the factors totally make sense with this post, since tv and video games take you from the outdoors in.


    • Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll definitely have to look for that.


      • Jessica,
        I have that book (Last Child in the Woods), if you want to borrow it.
        I agree with your post wholeheartedly! I bought Iain some books for his birthday (Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction), which show how to build all sorts of fun boy toys. He was unimpressed, at the time, because he was hoping for some electronic gifts. But he has been spending time outside exploring the neighbors creek, and it has sparked his imagination. The books came back out, and he has spent the last week making weapons, and now he is excited about our history curriculum this year and he has been reading books on his own. I am amazed. Good indication that being outside has positive effects on our brains!


  2. […] out my guest post this month at Modern Alternative Momma for one easy way to boost their memory, attention span and […]


  3. […] playing outside is so important for our children’s health and well-being. The natural world offers solace and comfort unlike what we can find in any man-made environment. […]


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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