Nature Play in Early Childhood

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Children learn best while playing. The best place for them to play is the outdoors, where there are no physical, mental or emotional restrictions. Children can be left to their own devices as the adults supervise from afar, or participate in child-led play.

Nature play will reap many benefits. It will significantly improve all aspects of childhood development — including physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. It will also allow your child to build the necessary life-skills that will be extremely useful in the long-term.1

Benefits of nature play2

  1. Risk assessment

Playing in nature will teach your child how to assess and negotiate the risks that are involved. Whether they are climbing on trees or other objects, or playing with sticks and stones, they will learn how to protect themselves and also problem-solve if they are stuck. Even if they sustain a minor injury, they learn to brush it off and pick themselves up again. Building resilience is an important part of childhood development!

  1. Building social skills

When your child heads outside to play, chances are they will meet other and interact with other playmates. You child will learn to collaborate with others, problem-solve, and be a team-player. They will learn to listen to their peers, to come to a compromise and negotiate when there is a need to. They might find a friend to reach out to console themselves in times of need.

  1. Physical health benefits

Children who engage in regular outdoor play benefit from increased flexibility and gross motor skills. Because your child is exposed to nature more often, they are more likely to build a strong and healthy immune system that will enable them to combat illness better. It will also improve their vision as they are not overexposed to electronic screens.

Children who care for plants or grow their own food are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables, reducing their risk of obesity. They are also more likely to continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives.

  1. Mental health benefits

Being in nature has been proven to improve mood and reduce depression and mental fatigue. It can help reduce feelings of anger and anxiety, and can also boost confidence and self-esteem.

  1. Academic benefits1

Nature play has shown great academic benefits including reduced stress and ADHD, while improving concentration and focus. This results in improved classroom behaviour and increased motivation and enthusiasm to learn. Playing outdoors also encourages creativity and experimentation. Overall, it results in higher scores in standardised tests.

Nature play ideas

At home nature play3

  1. Sensory Potpourri from the Garden

This activity can be done at home, in a park, or when you’re camping!

  • Give your child a basket and get them to collect leaves and flowers — anything they think that smells nice, or has an interesting colour or texture
  • Let the children run around to find their items and get them to share why they have chosen their items
  • Using a bowl, mix the potpourri items together
  • Spread the mix over a flat surface, which can be easily stored in a dry location for a few weeks. Leave it to dry out.
  • After the mixture is dried, fill a dry glass jar and cover it with a cloth. Use a ribbon to secure it.

This activity is very good at building your child’s awareness of the smells of nature that is around us.

  1. Pressing flowers

This is a very good activity to fuel your child’s creativity. You can use this opportunity to start scrapbooking, or even create a bookmark out of the pressed flowers.

This activity can be done at home, or in a park. Make sure to only pick flowers that have fallen on the ground, and not pluck them from the tree itself.

  • Carefully choose the flowers you want to press
  • Cut several flowers from their stems and arrange them on a blank paper
  • Lay the sheet of paper with flowers between two paper towels
  • Lay a heavy book over the top of the sheet, and use place several bricks or books over top of the original book
  • The weight will press and flatten the flowers. Wait for at least 6 weeks for the flowers to dry out
  1. Worm Farm Wrangler

Worms are nature’s greatest recyclers. Instead of throwing away our vegetable or kitchen scraps, it is a good idea to turn to composting, and use worms to turn our scraps into fertiliser.

  • If you can find a polystyrene box, use a screwdriver to make 8 small holes at the bottom.
  • Line newspaper shreds at the bottom of the box with the holes.
  • Add several large handfuls of soil or compost. Lightly moisten the soil with some water from a watering can.
  • Add a handful of worms to the soil along with some vegetable or kitchen scraps.
  • Cover the soil with hessian or newspaper to keep it moist and dark.
  • Place a brick in another box and place the soil-filled box on top.
  • Let the worms settle in for a week before adding more scraps.
  • Always keep the soil moist and don’t overfeed the worms.
  • Excess moisture and useful fertiliser will seep through the holes at the bottom of the box.

Things to do during a bush-walk4

  1. Use your ‘Super Eyes’

Use your super eyes and observe your surroundings. The goal is to look for a safe insect to observe, and then watch it carefully for a whole minute. Discuss what the insect was doing.

  1. Scrunch and sniff

Try to find a scent that will take you back to this bush trail when you smell it. Take a handful of fallen leaves or flowers and crush them in your hands. How do they smell? Which one is the best?

  1. Watch the birds

If you sit quietly, you will notice that birds begin to fly and perch closer to your group. Watch as they hunt for food, feed their babies, bathe, and sing. Observe the differences in the birds — their size, colour, shape, and behaviour. If you have a bird guide-book, bring it along so you can learn to identify the different species.

  1. Find national treasures

Decide on a theme — colours of the rainbow, alphabet, size, texture — and hunt down treasures that fit in the category. At the end of the bush-walk, take a photo of your treasures to capture the memories and then return them to nature.

  1. Sit silent and still

Different cultures, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, practice a type of sitting that requires complete silence and engagement of all the senses. Discuss how you felt, what you saw or heard.

Things to do at the beach5

  1. Coconut band

Find coconut, rocks, and sticks along the beach. Gather your friends and family and create a band!

  1. Sea Turtle race

Pretend that you’re a sea turtle! Crawl out of your sand nest and race down to the seashore.

(You can get the children to dig their own sand nest and hide in them.)

  1. Sea-shell museum

Walk along the beach and collect seashells that have washed up ashore. Create your own sea-shell museum. Visitors can only enter with one seashell or a sand dollar.

  1. Build a sand-castle

Make use of the wet sand and other safe objects available on the beach to create your very own castle!

Nature and pretend play

These are some basic ideas you can either do with your child, or encourage them to engage in by themselves (with supervision of course)! The best kind of play activities are ones where your child is unrestricted which allows their imagination to run wild!

You can bring them to a park or a playground and they will eventually form friendships and start running their own play-time. We hope this week’s blog post has given you some some fun activities to do with your child! If you need more ideas on how to get your child interested in nature play, you can check out this website.

 

References

  1. Whittle, I. Nature Play in Early Years Education. (Link)
  2. Wenzel, C. Ten benefits of playing in Nature. (Link)
  3. DIY Nature Play. (Link)
  4. 10 things to do as you go bushwalking. (Link)
  5. 10 things to do at your beach. (Link)
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