Topic of the month - Nature play beyond the Playground
Updated: Jun 14, 2022
During the pandemic, the youngest of children have been prevented from exploring much of the outdoors. Due to lockdown restrictions, most may have only ventured out a handful of times due to health and safety concerns and it’s understandable. But as the pandemic wanes down, and vaccination becomes more widely available,
May is the last month before winter sets in and keeps young children indoors again. So in this newsletter, we’ll tackle the importance of nature play for young children, its benefits and where young children can go to take advantage of natural playgrounds to their hearts’ content.
What is Nature Play?
Associate Professor Janet Dyment from the School of Education at the University of Tasmania says nature play happens “when children are provided with the opportunity to engage in unstructured play activities in outdoor settings where natural elements feature, such as logs, rocks and water, as opposed to conventional manufactured play equipment.” Nature play gives young children endless sources for entertainment and fun– whether it’s from scouring puddles or ponds for living creatures or collecting scraps to craft into a new toy or building a fort out of natural spots and crevices. Through nature play, young children are able to use all of their five senses in learning about their natural environment while also having fun. As they discover a whole new world in the form of the natural environment, its variety and expanse triggers their curiosity. And in this new playground, a day is too short for a young child to run out of ideas and spaces to play and investigate with.
The Benefits of Nature Play
Nature play isn’t just a source of fun for children. It gives a great boost to both their physical and mental development as well.
Better gross motor skills
In nature, kids have more freedom to run, walk, sprint, jump, climb, scale, and even tumble and toss around. Natural elements are seen as tools to help them be more active in their play. Whether it’s climbing a tree, scaling a cliff, or jumping over puddles to get to the other side, natural elements help children explore and exercise their physical abilities.
Better respiratory health
Being out in nature surrounded with plants and trees that purify the air gives children ample opportunity to breathe in high quality air. A previous study found that children who spent more time in nature also had a lower prevalence of having asthma.
Social skills improvement
Doing unstructured play in a natural environment requires more cooperation and communication. As children imagine a world they create with their playmates, they have define and communicate the rules of the imagined world, and cooperate to bring the semblance of that imagined world into reality. They may ask their playmates to help them carry a huge log or branch over to another side to serve as a chair. They have to learn how to assign roles and responsibilities among themselves and decide who’ll be in charge and who will help each other.
Boost in resourcefulness and creativity
While there may be a lack or short supply of man-made toys for them to use, children are afforded with a bountiful supply of natural elements which they can transform into a tool. This helps them be more inventive in the games they play according to their natural surroundings instead of having to follow a certain set of rules and intent on focusing on certain outcomes.
Better mental health
A Danish study in 2019 found out that having lower exposure to green surroundings in early childhood increased the risk of developing mental illnesses in adulthood. Meanwhile a 2017 Canadian study found out that being exposed to natural elements had a positive effect on children’s capacity to perform independent play and increased their prosocial behaviours.
Made with love by South Parramatta Granville Preschool
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