Back to nature: how outdoor play can help children who suffer from anxiety


Back to nature: how outdoor play can help children who suffer from anxiety

In recent years there has been a marked increase in anxiety amongst children. Some of this can be explained by the years of lockdowns and social distancing throughout the pandemic. However, that is not the only reason why a child might suffer with anxiety. This can be anything from children suffering from separation anxiety or phobias, or even a major life change like a new house or a new sibling. Sometimes there doesn’t even need to be a reason. Much of this anxiety will work itself out naturally, over time, but outdoor play can have a huge positive impact on children’s mental health.

Fresh air and exercise

Fresh air and exercise have for a long time been promoted as the ‘cure all’ prescription for many ailments, particularly stress and anxiety. This isn’t just an ‘old-wives tale’, as there is scientific research to back this up. Outdoor play can increase exposure to sunlight, which allows Vitamin D to be produced, which releases the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. By increasing the levels of serotonin and oxytocin in the body, children will feel calmer and happier. Time spent playing outdoors is also thought to help relieve stress and anxiety by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol in the brain. Enjoying the fresh air can reduce children’s response to stress and allow them to recover from stressful situations more quickly.

In addition, following outdoor play, teachers often report improved levels of concentration, better ability to focus and learn, increased productivity, better behaviour, and even more positive relationships between adults and children, and amongst peer groups. The broadcaster and writer Ben Fogle is a huge advocate of being outdoors and he has frequently spoken about how the outdoors rescued him: “There is a natural simplicity to nature; it is far more tactile and tangible than the classroom...we should focus on wellbeing and encouraging our children to connect with the natural world….We need to bring positivity, health and wellbeing back into our schools.”

Out of control

Another key cause of anxiety in children, can be the lack of control they often have over what they are doing. Involving them in making decisions is a good way to combat this, particularly if it is decisions about what play activity they will be taking part in.

Spoilt for choice

The choice of outside play equipment is vast, and many of them are ideal for reducing stress and anxiety in children. Outdoor gym equipment has increased in popularity over recent years, and these can be simple small weights, jump ropes and stretching bands or actual static bikes and rowing machines. Swing sets and play sets remain firm favourites and can incorporate a simple swing frame or a more elaborate setup, like monkey bars. Sandpits and water play lend themselves perfectly to the Summer weather and the very tactile nature of the play can have beneficial results.

Ace Play has helped design all types of outdoor play areas and can advise you on the best one for your space and budget. Find out more at

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