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How Much Outdoor Time Should Toddlers Have?

by Sara Mahuron

Outdoor time is helpful for your toddler and you. He gets to burn off all that energy while keeping healthy and you get a break from finding new activities to entertain him with indoors. Outdoor time should be included in his daily routine as long as weather permits -- rain or shine.

Outdoor Time

Toddlers should play outdoors daily. All children 6 years of age and younger should play outside two to three times every day. According to the Early Head Start National Resource Center, toddlers ages 12 months to 3 years old need 60 to 90 minutes of outdoor play. According to Penn State University's Better Kid Care Program, toddlers need half an hour of structured play time and a minimum of one hour of unstructured activity -- several hours is preferred.

Why It Matters

Outdoor time is important because it helps keep toddlers healthy. Ensuring that your toddler gets enough outside play time helps her develop gross motor and physical skills. As your toddler explores and interacts with her surroundings, her attention span, awareness and observation skills are improved. The outdoors offers variation in play space and engages your toddler's senses in different ways than the indoors. It also gives her time to use her "outdoor voice" and expend energy.

Limitations

Your toddler's outdoor time means outdoor time for you, too. He should always be supervised and ensure that his environment is safe. Use sunscreen of at least 15 SPF when playing in direct sunlight, ensure that he has plenty of water to drink in hot weather and dress him appropriately for cold weather. Limit outdoor time to 20 to 30 minute sessions when the temperature is 21 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and substitute indoor activities if it gets even colder.

Make It Count

Keep outdoor play age-appropriate and offer a variety of activities. It is not just quantity that counts -- quality is equally important. The outside extends the curriculum for toddlers, opening up a new world for learning. Allow your toddler to engage in hands-on activity, play sports and care for nature. Shift scheduled outdoor time around to accommodate changes in season or weather so your toddler is outdoors when the weather is best for outside play.

About the Author

Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.

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