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Benefits of physical games and outdoor activities for children

little girl standing on one foot

Key points:

  1. Sensory-motor games enhance physical skills, while games with rules model orderly thought and morality.
  2. Physical activity improves cognition, attention, and cognitive flexibility in children.
  3. Fun ideas to boost cognitive development include dancing, imitating animal movements, and outdoor play.
  4. Engage in playful activities like follow the leader, hide and seek, or playing with inflatable balls for physical and cognitive benefits.

“Considering the various forms play takes, it’s easy to identify the possible value of sensory-motor games for enhancing physical skills, and games with rules for modeling early forms of orderly thought or even morality” Jerome Singer, in Toys, Play, and Child Development

In a 2014 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group of researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas studied the effect of physical activity on children’s brains and behavior. They assigned 221 kids into either a year-long after-school program of physical activity and outdoor games, or a waiting-list. Then, they asked them in multiple occasions to do tasks that measured cognition and attention. After a year, they found that only the kids that had engaged in physical activity showed a significant improvement in cognitive inhibition, attention, and cognitive flexibility, demonstrating that physical activity improves cognition.

Along the same lines, a group of brain researchers in Japan’s Waseda University conducted a study in 2015 that suggested that fit children were better at filtering information needed to solve a problem, when compared with peers that didn’t engage in daily physical activity.


So now that we’ve emphasized the importance of making sure your kid is getting their daily dose of exercise in order to be in peak physical and cognitive shape, here are some fun ideas to move those muscles and boost their cognitive development:

  • Play some music and dance together. Activation songs like “head, shoulders, knees and toes” or “Macarena” are good options.
  • Imitate an animal movement, for example try to hop like a frog, leap like a rabbit, walk like a penguin, be graceful on all fours like a lion, etc.
  • Play follow the leader or hide and seek.
  • Take a walk into the nearest playground and explore the slides or other features.
  • Play with a light inflatable ball. Depending on your kid’s dexterity you can try playing throw and catch.

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