Remember back to when you were a child and what play looked like – running around a park kicking a ball, climbing trees, riding bikes and playing in the creek. Unstructured play in natural environments is something many children are missing out on today, but there are plenty of benefits to getting outside and playing in the natural environment.
It is well understood and accepted that play is one of the biggest ways that children learn, and some of the best lessons children can be taught is unstructured outdoor play. In a world where our lives are often ruled by structure, and technology, not to mention consistently busy, being in nature is often forgotten or pushed down the to-do list.
So what is nature play? Much like when we adults were children, nature play is any activity that gets children outdoors. It is also play that doesn’t require intervention or control from parents or caregivers; instead adults are encouraged to supervise from a distance while children go about their own devices, exploring the work around them. If you do want to actively participate, it is encouraged to let this time be child-led rather than adult-led.
You may be surprised to learn that natural play has academic benefits for children of all ages. In a report, the Natural Wildlife Federation, Back to School: Back Outside (Coyle, 2010), found that outdoor play has a range of academic benefits including:
- Usefully employing all of a child’s native intelligences, ranging from math and science smarts to interpersonal communications;
- Quantitatively increase student motivation and enthusiasm to learn;
- Help students to learn across disciplines and make them better real-world problem solvers;
- Measurably improve classroom performance in math, science, reading and social studies;
The health benefits of outdoor nature play tend to be really clear and are some of the biggest benefits to a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. These benefits include:
- Children who play outside more get sick less often. Playing in mud, sand, water, leave, stick and dirt stimulates a child’s immune system while stimulating their imagination;
- Being more physically active leads to children who are less likely to be overweight;
- Natural play makes children more resistant to stress, and leads to lower incidences of behavioural disorders, anxiety and depression as well as building a higher level of self-worth.
If the academic and health benefits of natural play weren’t enough, there are a number of social benefits that come with spending time playing outdoors.
- Children who play in nature tend to have more positive feelings for other children;
- Bullying behaviour is reduced when children have access to diverse and extensive natural environments to play in;
- Nature based play allows children to develop diverse and imaginative ways to play while improving language and collaboration skills.
The Department for Education and Training in Victoria notes that “playing outdoors is important for developing capacities for creativity, symbolic play, problem solving and intellectual development. Outdoor play has clear physical benefits for developing children including helping children acquire gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination and helping to prevent obesity.”
Implementing Outdoor Play at Home
It is surprisingly easy to implement outdoor and nature play at home, and you don’t need to have a large space to do it in. Natural environments may include some of the following elements:
- Gardens where children can grow, nurture and pick their own plants;
- Sandpits allow for sensory and physical play;
- Patches of the garden where children can dig and play in the dirt;
- Plants that encourage wildlife including birds, insects and butterflies;
- Shade providing trees; and
- Water play areas for sensory and physical play.
Looking to get your child more involved in nature while keeping them in a supportive early education environment? All three Treasured Tots centres provide an outdoor play area that has been set up to offer the same benefits as outdoor play. Children of all ages get the chance to climb, play and sit in a natural environment, while soaking in all the academic, health and social benefits nature brings to a child. Why not take a tour of one of our centres in Fremantle, Mandurah and Bibra Lake to see how we promote outdoor nature play?