Arbor Month 2014
Supporting Nature Play
Playing with nature means immersing the whole body and mind into the world around you. This could involve climbing trees; scrambling on uneven terrain; listening to rustling leaves; smelling soil or plants; repurposing sticks into forts, swords, or magic wands; and letting imaginations fly. Unlike organized sports, which are controlled, structured by adults, and can involve a lot of time on the sidelines, nature play is unstructured, unorganized, and engaging for everyone—as play should be!
1. Let children explore and discover at their own pace. Secrets and joys discovered through self-discovery will be more memorable.
2. Let children take risks. When young children are allowed to explore risks early on at their own level of comfort, they are less likely to take dangerous risks when they are older. Risk-taking helps children build problem-solving skills, understand the limits of their physical competencies, and be better prepared to face life's challenges.
3. Give children space to play and explore on their own. You can be nearby to ensure the child is safe. A discovery is only a discovery when it is found out, not told to the child.
4. Talk with your child, not at them. "Why do you think this tree has thorns?" is more useful than "Watch out for those thorns." Modeling how to wonder and ask questions will help a child discover and learn. Let their imaginations roam!
5. Nature play spaces don't need to be large, but need a few simple things such as tree branches or sticks, a pile of sand (or dirt or stones), stumps, or water. Throw in a few child-size pails, trowels, pieces of rope, or containers for collecting "treasures," and children will instinctively know what to do with them.
6. Regular, year-round nature play in nearby spaces such as in a yard, courtyard, or even in a neighborhood woodlot, has more impact on fostering a child's physical, emotional, and social health than a few field trips a year to a park far away. It also nurtures a future adult who is more likely to appreciate, understand, and steward nature.
7. Involve the whole family. When children see their loved ones outdoors, they are more likely to feel comfortable and engage in play. Welcome friends and neighbors to your play space too.