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BCI Burke Playground

Outdoor Play for Girls

Getting kids (and all people!) outside is important. We know that and it’s something we’ve been focused on throughout our more than 100-year history. As we look at benefits of outdoor play and the inequities that exist, we see girls get less outdoor play…and they need it! Sometime, too often, we focus only on equity in education, extracurricular activities and career pathways — without remembering the importance of unstructured outdoor play and adventures and how these activities can positively contribute to self-confidence, growth and resilience – all essential for girls and women!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, outdoor play is essential for a child’s healthy development. As children build confidence, skills, strength and resilience, they experience lower stress levels, better health, and a greater sense of overall well-being. 

They thrive. 

Research from the Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education and Leadership also indicates that outdoor experiences at early ages boost self-confidence and positive body image among adolescent girls. Yet our girls aren’t getting out there in the same numbers that boys are.

A JAMA Pediatrics study reported that preschool girls are 16 percent less likely to be taken outside to play by their parents than boys of the same age. This gap widens as the children grow: 59.4 percent of girls ages 6-12 actively participate in outdoor activities, but that number drops to 55 percent by their teenage years.

Starting at age 26, young women’s participation declines further, and according to the Outdoor Foundation, just 20 percent of women are still enjoying outdoor recreation by the time they are 66. This is in contrast to 40 percent of men.  

Fortunately, there are several easy things we can do as parents and caregivers:

   Make sure your child gets plenty of sunshine. Vitamin D supports bone development, immune system, healthy sleep, and mood.

   Encourage at least an hour of exercise each day — and outdoors is best! Be creative. You can visit a playground, go for a bike ride, play ball, or visit a nearby nature trail or park.

   Allow your child to enjoy unstructured time outdoors. As they explore and problem-solve, they’re also taking risks, being creative, and building critical-thinking skills. If other children are involved, they are socializing, navigating relationships, and practicing teamwork as well. Activities such as climbing, sliding, adventuring and playing child-directed outdoor games are great ways to obtain these benefits!

   Explore nature with them. Teach them about the weather, the seasons, and all the different plants and animals. Our kids spend far too much time, as we all do, on screens. The more time they spend outside, they will deepen their connection with the natural world. 

That connection will provide lasting benefits. In a 2017 study commissioned by REI, 85 percent of women said the outdoors positively affects their mental health, physical health, happiness and overall well-being. Getting outdoors for play in childhood offers girls a baseline comfort and understanding of outdoors spaces and lays the foundation for the outdoors as a positive space.

It's time to commit to making outdoor play accessible and a top priority for girls all year round. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of our girls — and in the lives of the women they will become.