As a parent you’ve probably heard plenty about nature play. But, you may not be aware of how to go about getting your children playing in nature or even the benefits.
One of the first things your child will notice when they start to play outside is what’s around them – trees, plants, birds, insects, dirt and so on. But there’s a bit more to nature play than just looking around. Nature play is all about exploring and engaging with their natural environment as well as experiencing different forms of that environment. This means touching and interacting in a way that complements their natural play.
Playing outdoors is important for a range of skills including creativity, problem solving, hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. The nature play side provides the stimulation children need to develop their senses – seeing, hearing, touching and smelling. Time outdoors playing increases physical activity, healthy development and overall wellbeing. If you have a super active child, it will also help them get some of that excess energy out.
Before we get onto some great nature play ideas, let’s explore what a natural area looks like. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that you don’t need to have all these areas at home – if you look around your local area, there’s a good chance these places already exist.
An area that is best for nature play including elements like:
Gardens where you can plant flowers and vegetables
• Areas to dig
• Playing with natural items such as gum nuts, branches, and stones
• Pebble pits
• Flowers that can be picked and smelt
• Plants that encourage insects like butterflies and animals like birds
• Trees with shade
• Water play areas
Nature Play Ideas
There are so many great nature play ideas out there, specifically that meet the needs of younger children. These are some of the best that we’ve discovered children love.
Mud Pie Kitchen
Have you heard of wombat stew? All the bush animals trick the dingo into using mud, feathers, gumnuts and more in his stew to save their wombat friend. A mud pie kitchen allows your child to create their own version of “wombat stew”.
Outdoor play kitchens are popular, but you truly don’t need one for this activity. All you really need is a bowl or two, one for collecting and one for mixing, a range of “ingredients” such as leaves, feathers, flowers, sand, dirt – whatever you can find. And then it’s simply a matter of adding water. This is such a fun and imaginative way for children to get amongst nature.
This is such a simple yet fun activity for children of any age. Collect some stones, pull out the paint and let your children create their own “rock monsters”. It’s a great way to explore the garden and then sit outside in the fresh air while painting.
You can use most kinds of paint for this activity, though there are more specific sets designed for kids rock painting, such as this one.
Nature walks are very simple and very beneficial for the entire family. Whether you head to a park, a rainforest or go on a little bushwalk, there are so many ways for your child to interact with nature as they are walking. Younger children may like to collect sticks, stones and flowers while older children will enjoy looking out for animals and birds. This is certainly one you need to have some time for though – it passes very quickly when little ones are engaged in collecting items.
Outdoor Sticky Mural
Another option that will get your child collecting different nature items is a sticky mural. All this takes is a piece of contact and your child’s natural collecting abilities. Stick the contact to a wall or a gate with some heavy-duty tape and let your child create. Flowers, leaves, petals and more make a great mural.
There’s two ways you can create bank art. Firstly, you could collect larger pieces of bark and let your child paint on them, or the second way is by creating rubbings. Tape a piece of paper to a tree, and let your children draw on the paper with crayons. It creates some lovely patterns and your child can see how the ridges in the bark transform onto paper.
Younger children or those with disabilities can have difficulty holding regular crayons. Try using ‘Learning Crayons’ that are easier to handle due to having colour-coded crayon holders slipped over the actual crayon itself.
Benefit of Nature Play in an Early Learning Setting
There are of course children who naturally love playing outside, while others aren’t so fond of it. But it is important to look at what outdoor and nature activities your early learning centres do. Outdoors is certainly one of the best places for children of all ages to learn. Early childhood learning centres are the perfect spot for sensory activities like water tubs and sand tubs, using leaves and flowers in craft activities, planting gardens with the children and simply being outside. When choosing an early learning centre, make sure you ask about the types of outdoor and nature play activities the children partake in.
Remember, there are many ways to get your child playing, exploring and learning outdoors. You can try and encourage them more by providing toys and games, such as their own new sand play toy set. Use the internet to search for fun outdoors game, or you can find more ideas on our website HERE.
Looking for an early learning centre in Mandurah, Fremantle or Bibra Lakes that has the wellbeing of your child at the front of mind? Speak to the team at Treasured Tots and find out how nature play is incorporated daily.
SORY BY Karen Chapman – Treasured Tots