Nature play is an important part of a healthy childhood, but what exactly is it? Here we will explain what nature play is, what the benefits of nature play are for children, some tips to incorporate it, and how to encourage your child to participate. So let’s get started!
What is Nature Play?
Nature play is any type of unstructured play that takes place outdoors in the natural world. Some examples of nature play include riding a bike, taking a nature walk, gardening, climbing a tree, digging in the dirt, and climbing on a log.
Ideally, nature play will take place in an outdoor environment without traditional playground equipment like swings, slides, and jungle gyms. You want the children to use their imaginations and creativity as they come up with ways to interact with the natural world around them.
What are the Benefits of Nature Play?
There are so many benefits of nature play that it is hard to keep track of them all, but let’s take a crack at it anyway. Nature play builds confidence, strengthens the immune system, reduces stress and anxiety, and reduces the symptoms of ADHD. Nature play also increases focus, promotes muscle development, increases range of motion, improves balance, builds mindfulness skills, and increases awareness of our connection to the natural world.
Why Some Parents Avoid Nature Play
You may be asking why on earth would a parent not want their child to participate in nature play after reading all of those benefits, but there are some who don’t like the idea all that much. There are a few reasons that some parents don’t like nature play, first of all, it can get pretty messy. Streams, mud, digging in the dirt…yes, your kids may get dirty but they will also have a blast! This fear of the kids getting dirty can be mitigated by dressing them in play clothes before sending them outside. If they have a stream to splash in or it’s muddy out, put them in rain boots or some old sneakers and let them go wild!
Recent generations have had more helicopter or hovering parents, and also more over-scheduled kids with dance lessons, soccer practice, and tutors. This can result in there not being a lot of time left over for nature play. Some parents are also genuinely concerned about their children getting hurt by walking on logs, or slippery rocks, or digging in the dirt with sticks. The truth is that they might get hurt, but that is part of learning and it will teach them resilience and boost their self-confidence. They will learn that they can take risks out in the natural world and that even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned that they will be just fine.
How to Make a Nature Play Space
You don’t have to have a lot of room to make a place for your children to engage in nature play. A small sandbox or an area of loose dirt, some shovels, a watering can and some sticks and rocks are a great start. Depending on the space you have available in your yard you can plant a garden, make a teepee frame out of sticks to provide some shade, or add a log or tree stump or two that they can balance or sit on.
Playing with water is also considered nature play, and what child doesn’t love practising pouring water from one container to another? You can also bring out the hose, sprinklers, water guns, and sponges for a fun afternoon of water play.
Tips for Making Nature Play Easier
The only tips that you really need to know for making nature play easier are to make sure that your kids are appropriately dressed for the season, and aware that they might end up with stained, torn clothing, and depending on what they are doing wet shoes.
The benefits of nature play far outweigh the hassle of dirty clothes or a child that needs a bath so just send them out in play clothes. Even if your natural play space at home is small, make sure there are safe (no rough edges, or splinters) movable pieces. This can include sticks, rocks, leaves, small logs, and fabric and string to build with. Movable pieces like these allow children to use their imaginations in nature play and build things to play with.
Allowing children to participate in nature play is an important part of their development, and as you can see, it doesn’t have to require a lot of space to participate in. Nature play can also occur away from home, if you have a nature preserve, local garden, or a wooded area nearby make sure that you often visit so that your child experiences nature play in a variety of settings. Do you have any nature play tips or ideas for children that you would like to share?
Learn more about your kids’ playtime by checking our All About Playtime page next!