5 min read

Physical activity is beneficial for young children. Being active is associated with better social and motor development as well as emotional self-regulation.1,2

Early childhood is a time when experiences shape habits that track into adulthood. Supporting young children’s love of movement will help those children to develop into adults who are active for life.

Outdoor Play Linked to Psychological Well-Being

Increasing outdoor play frequency during childcare hours is a great strategy to increase moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA). In fact, outdoor play and access to nature in the early years is associated with health benefits such as:

  • decreased depressed affect3
  • better spatial working memory4
  • better self-regulation5
  • improved overall mental well-being6

Outdoor Play Linked to Higher Physical Activity Minutes

Winter is a great time for children to get out and explore the outdoors and it increases the likelihood of meeting the Canadian 24-Hour movement guidelines for young children. However, as the temperature drops so does the amount of time spent outside.

Although not all outdoor play is active, children often engage in more active play when outside than inside as gross motor activities are typically limited or prohibited indoors.7

7 Tips from a Fellow CHEERS Champion

[1] Multiple reminders & weather guide flyer

  • the right clothes make outdoor play successful
  • busy families sometimes forget – use the “How to Dress for the Weather Guide” to remind parents what items to pack for kids
  • reminders from everyone increase the chances those items will come
  • post this resource on bulletin boards, newsletters, and handouts for parents

[2] Encourage families to leave a spare winter gear

  • consider letting families leave snow pants, hats, or mittens at the centre so the right clothes are always available

[3] Keep a stash of spare gear

  • this is harder during COVID - but spare snow pants, winter boots, etc often come in handy
  • invite parents to donate gear when their children grow out of it

[4] Use family orientation and the handbook to emphasize outdoor play policies

  • create a physical activity policy for your centre so everyone knows that it is valued
  • include the health benefits in the policy so parents know why you want the right clothes
  • let parents know how you make safe decisions about being outside and for how long
  • get outside early on hot days – go outside later in the day on colder days
  • let educators know that outdoor play is an important part of their professional practice
  • use walks and outdoor time for experiential education time (look at gardens or go for a walk after a rain storm to hunt for worms).

[5] Families new to Canada

  • consider having a handout on what items have worked for other children and shops where these things can be purchased at discounted rates.
  • pictures of other students’ gear help to visualize what to look for when shopping
  • emphasise how much fun children have when they are dressed appropriately

[6] Support staff in understanding the value of outdoor play

  • when bringing on new staff be clear during orientation that your centre spends a lot of time outside
  • reinforce this by talking about your centre’s physical activity policy
  • create a CHEERS champion community that shares information on good deals on excellent gear

[7] Share LOTS of photos with families of their children having FUN outside!

  • once the parents see the joy, hear the fun stories, and realize that outdoor play is safe; parents are generally motivated to send appropriate outdoor gear 

More Resources for Outdoor Play


  1. Timmons BW, Leblanc AG, Carson V et al. Systematic review of physical activity and health in the early years (aged 0–4 years). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2012; 37: 773–792.
  2. Vasilopoulos, F., & Ellefson, M. R. (2021). Investigation of the associations between physical activity, self-regulation and educational outcomes in childhood. PloS one, 16(5), e0250984.
  3. Brussoni, M., Ishikawa, T., Brunelle, S., & Herrington, S. (2017). Landscapes for play: effects of an intervention to promote nature-based risky play in early childhood centres. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 54, 139–150. jenvp.2017.11.001.
  4. Schutte, A. R., Torquati, J. C., & Beattie, H. L. (2015). Impact of urban nature on executive functioning in early and middle childhood. Environment and Behavior, 49(1), 3–30. 0013916515603095.
  5. Becker, D. R., McClelland, M. M., Loprinzi, P., & Trost, S. G. (2014). Physical activity, self-regulation, and early academic achievement in preschool children. Early Education and Development, 25(1), 56– 70.
  6. McCormick, R. (2017). Does access to green space impact the mental well-being of children: a systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 37, 3–7.
  7. Predy, M., Holt, N., & Carson, V. (2021). Examining correlates of outdoor play in childcare centres. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 112(2), 292–303.