Improve Executive Functions with Outdoor Activities

While our focus at LearningWorks for Kids is on using digital technologies, a healthy play diet incorporates active and free play. And it’s not just about kids running around and getting their energy out, though that is an important factor. Most importantly, outdoor and active play can be great tools for improving executive functions. Parents can help kids boost thinking skills like focus, self-control, and self-awareness with fun activities like hikes in the woods and trips to the beach.

So how do you improve executive functions with outdoor activities? Take hiking, for example, which first and foremost requires sustained attention. Hikers must focus on what they are doing, and younger hikers especially must persist even when they start getting a bit tired or the hiking trails are difficult. On a longer hike hike, organizational skills are needed to make sure that you have the necessary water, food, and other supplies that you’ll need for your hike.

And consider what kids need to think about when they play an organized sport. They need to be able to follow directions, plan and strategize as part of a team, consider the feelings of their teammates and competitors, and recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. Sports also provide opportunities to learn self-control skills, particularly in handling frustration when one loses.

Taking a family trip is also a fantastic opportunity to practice and improve a variety of executive functioning skills such as planning and time management. It also requires time management skills such as considering how long to spend in particular places and to recognize the amount of time required for travel, lodging, and other activities. Consider planning your next family trip with your child, helping her to think about activities that she would like to do. Let her help organize the things to do and places you’ll go, then create a list of things needed and pack for the trip together.


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We’re the place to come for expert advice on using video games and tech to build executive functions, and there’s a reason our recommended play diet includes healthy doses of varying types of play. But when it comes to improving thinking skills through active and outdoor play, there are other blogs and websites to look to for advice. Here are our favorites.

MileHighMamaThe Mile High Mama – a fun and vibrant website with a focus hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities for families. Featuring cool pictures and ideas for family outings, many of the posts lend themselves to helping your kids exercise planning, organization, and flexibility skills.


Family Vacation Criticfamilyvacationcritic – a terrific resource for helping parents identify the best types of vacations for their families. Family Vacation Critic even identifies resort vacations that appeal to teenagers who might be reluctant to spend time with the family. Helping your kids to choose a vacation together is a great opportunity for planning and an awesome way to motivate them to organize for the vacation.


JBMJBM Thinks – a very thoughtful sports blog, written by Janice Meredith, that address many of the issues that arise when kids are involved in sports. She talks about things like character development and growth — a core part of our model for developing executive functions. She addresses concerns about teamwork and tips for parental support that can assist children in developing social, emotional, and character skills from their involvement in sports.

What are your favorite websites for ideas on improving executive functioning, social and emotional learning, and academic skills through active and outdoor play? Tell us in the comments!


Featured image: Flickr user Misty Johnson

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2 thoughts on “Improve Executive Functions with Outdoor Activities

  1. I also really enjoy how much learning works emphasizes out door activity in moderation to indoor screen time. It is great to know that and learn about how moderation is important in day to day activity.

  2. Great way to develop the social aspect of one’s life is through engaging psycho-motor activities like simply hiking, walking or even going outside with the family.

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