How Playing Outdoors Helps in Children's Language Development

Just a few decades ago, parents berated their children for playing outside too long and getting home late for dinner. These days, however, parents are actively looking for ways to lure their children outside to play and pry them off their screens. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children between the ages of 8 and 10 spend an average of 6 hours in front of various screens every day, including the TV. JAMA Pediatrics further notes that the problem has since been exacerbated during the pandemic, and there’s been an increase of 52 percent, or approximately 84 minutes, in children’s average screen time exposure. 

How Playing Outdoors Helps in Children's Language Development
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In Singapore, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) researchers revealed that 30 percent of infants were allowed an hour of screen time per day. 70 percent of toddlers aged 18 months and below were given half an hour of screen time on weekdays, with the number increasing to 80 percent on weekends. This is a far cry from the recommended zero screen time for toddlers and infants. For children aged 8 to 12 years old, the numbers are even more staggering. The 2018 DQ National Report found that Singaporean children spent an average of 35 hours a week on screens, which is 3 hours more than the global average.

Some studies suggest that spending a lot of screen time can have a detrimental effect on cognitive and language development. This is especially true for children under 2 years of age. A study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that every 30 minutes of screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk of speech delay for toddlers. In stark contrast, playing outside has been found to increase language development in children. Thanks to the time they spend outside, children can learn how to use more complex language to describe their natural environment, relay maths and science concepts, and talk about their play situations.

The KKH study in Singapore has come out with a recommendation of at least 180 minutes of outdoor play for toddlers and preschoolers. When selecting preschools with high-quality early childhood education Singapore parents must do their research and make sure that the school provides a natural outdoor environment that’s conducive to learning and language development.

Here are just a few ways in which simple outdoor play can positively impact a child’s language development:

It Helps Kids Develop Creative Problem-Solving Skills

Outdoor play is a form of unstructured play where children are left to do activities on their own terms. There are no formal rules and guidelines to follow, which leads children to freely create and use their imagination. The unstructured environment, as well as the company of other children, leads them to solve problems creatively—for example when figuring out how to take turns, how to resolve conflicts, and how to play certain activities or games. 

All these activities require efficient communication between kids and their playmates. They also help children practice a deeper level of reasoning and logical thinking skills, which they need when communicating verbally. 

It Provides Opportunities for Socialisation

When a child plays outside, they’re also likely to meet other children they can interact with. If allowed to play by themselves with minimal supervision, they are encouraged to communicate with their playmates. They learn to negotiate and pick up new things from their peers, which gives them the best opportunity to practise expressing themselves. They are motivated to verbalise how they are feeling, what they find fascinating, and more.

Having social interactions in a serene and green environment, like a park or garden, can drastically improve pro-social behaviours among children as well. That’s why outdoor play in green spaces should be encouraged and championed by parents and educators. Children can have these positive experiences with each other, and they can learn how to communicate and more, all without much risk of negative consequences.

It Expands the Imagination and Boosts Creativity

Some studies suggest that imagination plays a crucial role in learning a second language. Imaginative play or pretend play—which includes activities like telling stories and jokes, playing games, and acting—

is used by second language teachers to teach a second language. The same tools can be employed in language development.

In outdoor play, children often practise and enjoy pretend play with their peers. This kind of play helps them exercise their imagination and allows them to fully be immersed in their make-believe world. With nature and the surrounding environment providing a rich backdrop, children are more focused and engaged, which makes them feel freer to try out new words or styles of speaking. For example, they may try to imitate a pirate and talk “silly” like a pirate would, allowing them to try on speaking styles that are different from their own and have fun at the same time.  

It Encourages Sensory Play

Another important kind of play in early childhood development is sensory play. This kind of play allows the child to use all their senses to explore, discover, and create. Preschoolers and toddlers use sensory play to understand basic concepts such as colours, opposites, shapes, and so on. 

Allowing children to play outside provides endless opportunities to use their senses and develop their language skills. Having experienced many new and concrete sensations outdoors, they will be able to describe textures, colours, smells, tastes, and sounds in imaginative and thoughtful ways. No other visual aids, like those that can be viewed from screens, can compare to the real thing.


Language development is a critical part of early childhood development. Aside from literacy, a mastery of language is necessary for children to express their emotions, think, learn, and develop relationships. Parents and educators need to be aware of activities that can help children successfully conquer this stage of development, and many of them can involve outdoor play. 

Instead of letting your child spend the whole day glued to their screens, why not encourage them to play outside and benefit from what nature has to offer? Not only will they enjoy their time playing, but they’ll also be able to develop their language skills without even realising it. The improvements in their language skills will allow your child to become a better communicator—which is something that will serve them well from their early years to their adulthood.

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