Our family is lucky enough to live in a beautiful environment; near the beach but on a mountain. We have beautiful walking tracks, waterfalls, beaches, riverbeds, creeks, wetlands and bush trails all within close proximity. CJ and I really make a conscious effort to get our girls playing and exploring outside and here’s why:
- Children’s creativity benefits from an unstructured environment.
When you take away the playground with it’s swings and ramps and climbing frames; you are putting your children into an open environment where they need to build on their creativity to find their fun. It might not be from scaling a ladder or sailing down a slide but that’s OK – it encourages them to use their imagination to work out different things that they can find enjoyment from. Suddenly a simple fallen branch presents a multitude of possibilities: it can become a fishing rod, maybe a wand, perhaps it’s a tool to use to make marks on the dirt or sand in. Fallen logs can become balance beams; stones can be collected and use to tell stories and shells can be turned into art.
- Playing in nature builds on resilience & problem solving skills.
When children are placed in an unfamiliar environment they’re able to be safely challenged and manage some risks independently whilst still being safe: falling over or losing footing, scraping their knee, getting muddy shoes or pants. All these situations can occur and the way that children are encouraged to brainstorm their own solutions and find ways of coping can be a really useful way to build on a child’s resilience. They may then use these similar coping strategies later on in other situations. These tools are critical for children to learn and apply and being in nature offers children a fun way to learn them.
- Nature-play means you’re building on that Family Memory Bank.
Do you think that children are going to remember that amazing day they spent in front of the TV watching a show over the day you as a family scaled a mountain together? I’m sure the answer is obvious. Exploring new environments together and sharing triumphs is a really wonderful way to make family memories together that your children are going to treasure for a lifetime. Maybe you could make a list of the places you’d like to go together: national parks, beaches, mountains, rivers, walking paths. Tick one off a weekend!
- Nature-play offers Sensory delights!
I know for us as a family of 3 autistic people; sensory accommodations have to be taken into consideration when we go outside. However being out in nature together allows these areas to be slowly worked on or desensitised in a safe, secure environment. It doesn’t need to be rushed, it can be slow and progressive – and the child can lead the pace. There are so many sensory experiences to be enjoyed: maybe going barefoot at the river’s edge; perhaps smelling the flowers at a garden, collecting smooth stones by the creek, sifting beautiful white sand through fingertips, making art with fallen paperbark.. the list goes on.
- It broadens knowledge and builds on respect.
When you’re playing together in nature you’re doing so much learning: wildlife ecosystems, discovering different plant life and fungi, wildlife, seasons, environmental history, indigenous history… And the learning isn’t just for the children: you may find yourself discovering things you never even knew you wanted to know about. Being out in nature also encourages children to pay respect for the environment they live in and encourages a sense of wonder and awe over the world we live in. Taking a moment to appreciate just how diverse and lucky we are to live in such a beautiful diverse country can only be a good thing and hopefully something we can teach our children to treasure for many years to come; from childhood through into being an adult.
One thing we have found really helps enhance our nature play is to be prepared and pack a backpack with bandaids, water bottles, a small towel, insect repellant, hats, snacks and wear good shoes – or don’t wear any.
So go on… get outside and play!