Surprising Reasons Why Kids Need Unsupervised Outdoor Play: An Infographic


Children who play on irregular play surfaces have better balance and coordination

Play outdoors.

Moms are being arrested for allowing their children do something highly beneficial for their development–something we took for granted as kids.

What is it?

Playing outdoors unsupervised.

As an example, there’s Tammy Cooper of Texas who was arrested for letting her kids play outside in their cul de sac, and there’s the mom who allowed her kids (aged 7 & 11) to walk the half mile to the pizza shop as well as many reports of well-meaning busybodies hauling school-aged children home because their parents were letting them play unsupervised in the neighbourhood playground.

Why is this happening? How is it that we used to play and roam neighbourhoods as kids, but now, in less than a 30-year span of time, unsupervised play is being treated as a criminal activity?

The world has become a very small place. We hear about a child being abducted–even if it is on a whole other continent with a whole different set of people in a whole different society–and we lock down. We feel as though this is happening in our very own backyard and that it could happen to us. We feel as if we know these people.

Where do those feelings of fear come from? Part of it comes from the media. We hear about every crime against children. As well, it seems as though the only time children make an appearance on a television drama is because something BAD is about to happen to them. Seeing and hearing about these heart-wrenching traumas taps into the primal part of our brain that tucks away potential dangers so we can avoid them in the future. The problem is, that part of the brain sees and hears these very real feeling traumas and it doesn’t realize that this is not an immediate, real danger lurking in our own back yard. It can’t tell the difference.

So, we end up living in more fear even though the crime rate is lower (assaults against children dropped 74% between 1993 and 2004) than when we were kids and roaming the world (unsupervised) on our bikes.


(Other than making an outdoor play infographic. Jump to it now.)

How can we be the change?

First, by realizing that the world is not as scary as the newcasters would like us to believe. It is their job to present stories that will create a palpable reaction from us, the CONSUMER.

Second, by realizing not only how vital and important outdoor play is for our children, but also how important unsupervised outdoor play is. It’s not just important. It is VITAL. Yes, VITAL with capital letters.

Third, by letting our kids out to play unsupervised. The more we let our kids out to roam, the more likely our neighbours will be to follow suit. And the more kids that are out there, the safer it is going to be–safety in numbers–and the more that other neighbourhood kids are going to come out. We create a new cycle.

Fourth, by spreading the word about the value of outdoor play and unsupervised play.

The infographic below is based on research done on play and expresses the foundational aspects of how outdoor play is intrinsically important for the healthy development of our children.

By sharing this infographic we will share this message: Children need to play outdoors unsupervised. It is healthy and normal and parents should not be arrested for allowing their children to play outdoors.

You can spread the word by using the code (below) to embed this infographic in your site, by pinning it, or by tweeting, Facebooking it, emailing it, etc.. It is free to share. (If you choose to share it, drop me a comment and I’ll help share your post, article, or site.)

[message type=”info”]Copy and Paste this code to embed this outdoor play infographic on your site:

<a href=””/><img src=”” alt=”Outdoor_Play title=”OutdoorPlayInfographic” /></a><br /><a href=”” style=”text-align:left;” align=”left”>Source:</a>[/message]

A Bit About the Outdoor Play Infographic:

The Value of Unsupervised Play:

Unsupervised play leads to many skills as well as helps children reach many developmental milestones. One of the biggest things unsupervised play does for kids is foster independence. Kids who play without adult supervision have to solve their own issues. Everything from ‘Do I put my coat on in this weather?’ to ‘Do I ignore this kid teasing me or resolve it by talking to him?’

When kids feel independent it leads to pride and confidence. Hey, I just got that kid to stop teasing me and now we’re playing tag! This is awesome. They’ve just solved a problem. And how they have solved this problem goes into their problem-solving repertoire–i.e. their brain just made a ton of new neural connections which will continue to help them throughout the rest of their life. By solving their own problems children also develop their own personal resiliency. They learn that they can not only take care of themselves, but they can also solve their own problems. If an adult was present in the above situation chances are pretty good that the adult would have stepped in and solved the problem, not benefiting either child long-term.

The Value of Outdoor Play:

Outdoor play is sensory. With the rise in concerns that our children are being stunted in terms of sensory development, playing outdoors is part of the answer. Every outdoor play experience is sensory and provides sensory input in a nonthreatening, nonoverstimulating, and natural way.

The benefits of outdoor play are so multifaceted and complex you could write a book about it. In fact, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, did. Some of the things he found in his research was that playing outdoors reduces anxiety and depression, both sadly on the rise as well as linked to not playing outdoors. As well, children who play outdoors are more likely to rate higher on a scale of feelings of self-worth. (And have two times the friends as kids who do not play outdoors?)

Kids who play outside are less likely to be obese. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years and statistics suggest that one in every three children is obese. (Your child is 500,000 times more likely to become obese than to be abducted.) Outdoor play is naturally active and is one of the best ways to reduce obesity.

Food for thought: The rise of organized kids sports (where kids spend a fair amount of time waiting for their turn or listening to their coach) has increased at approximately the same time as childhood obesity. (Electronics use has also increased during that time period and unsupervised, unstructured outdoor play has decreased.)

By the way, kids who play outdoors and on irregular play surfaces (not a smooth soccer pitch) have greater motor fitness including balance and coordination.

On the intellectual end of the spectrum, outdoor play has been linked to a reduction of ADHD type symptoms and increases the ability for kids (and adults) to concentrate, pay attention, and even score higher grades in school. In fact, recess is linked to better classroom behaviours.

Kids were meant to move. Their natural playground is the great outdoors. This is how the brain has developed over the millennium. And if there is one thing I know it’s that we can’t outsmart nature.

The Benefits of Outdoor Play Infographic

Shareable. Spread the word. Outdoor play should not be criminalized.

[message type=”info”]Copy and Paste this code to embed this outdoor play infographic on your site:

<a href=””/><img src=”” alt=”Outdoor_Play title=”OutdoorPlayInfographic” /></a><br /><a href=”” style=”text-align:left;” align=”left”>Source:</a>[/message]

Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities. Nature-deficit can even change human behavior in cities, which could ultimately affect their design, since long-standing studies show a relationship between the absence or inaccessibility of parks and open space with increased crime rates, depression, and other urban maladies.

–Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods

Send your kids out to play.

Playtime is more fun when it's shared with others. Share this post with your friends.


  1. Reply

    If you like play and have kids or are looking for games, their boards are really great: Their boards are one of the first I followed–so much fun happening there.

    Thanks to Playworks for pinning the infographic on their Pinterest board.

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