The Nature of Play

What is nature play all about?

Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, children spent their free time climbing trees, exploring the local creek, building forts and cubbies and making all kinds of discoveries with their friends. Days were spent outdoors, unsupervised and unstructured. This is nature play. There were no smartphones, laptops or tablets to entertain. There were no structured play dates or indoor play centres and it was safe to roam around the neighbourhood and play with children in the street. But in just one generation, technology has become the substitute for free play and life for children has moved from outdoors to indoors, from active to sedentary. According to a 2013 Planet Ark study, 1 in 4 children have never even climbed a tree. 1 in 5 children today aged 6-9 years old, spend more than 2 hours/day in front of a TV, increasing as children get older. Children are losing their connection to the natural world. The loss of ‘nature play’, is having a negative impact on children’s physical, emotional and social development, their health and wellbeing, their ability to make decisions, solve problems, assess risks and become resilient young people and adults.

So what can you do?

There is loads you can do to help restore the balance for your children. The first step is to replace children’s screen time with green time. Allowing children the opportunity and permission to spend uninterrupted time outdoors will lay the groundwork for children to learn about themselves, the world around them and how they function in it. Their senses will be fully engaged, curiosity nurtured, problem solving skills put to the test and they will learn about their capabilities and limitations, lifelong skills that will be invaluable.

Nature Play SA is a small not for profit organisation that understands how important it is for children to recapture the time to play and be in nature. It has been established to empower parents, educators and the broader community to help make unstructured time in nature, an everyday part of childhood. Nature Play SA’s website, Facebook and Instagram sites aim to make it easy for families seeking ideas, inspiration and guidance. Their website includes lists and information sheets you can download free. Affordable events families can enjoy throughout the year showcase nature play in action – cubby building, mud play, whittling and weaving, geocaching. The summer program of events will be released soon. A small online shop offers books to inspire and products to support children’s time outdoors. And a newly launched, unique membership program, designed for families, the Nature Play SA Collective, will provide members with ideas, encouragement and guidance on the little things you can do that will make a big difference.

Get your family started with your very own backyard nature play space

By using a few simple elements from nature, you can create an inspiring backyard for your children where they will be immersed in sensory stimulation that will provide endless creative fun, discovery and creativity.
Excerpt from Natural Playspaces Families available on the Nature Play SA website

Secret Places – children love hiding spaces and building cubbies and forts where they can play by themselves or with their friends.

Water & Sand – a sandpit and water source, the perfect combination for hours of creative fun and play.

Mud – the ultimate sensory experience. Build a mud kitchen, create a mud pit, or make a mud wheelbarrow.

Something to climb – Climbing is instinctive for children and climbing trees, a rite of passage. It develops their fine and gross motor skills, co-ordination and risk-taking exploits.

A Garden to grow – having their own little patch of garden to tend with their own tools, teaches children how to care for things and to understand where food comes from.

Inspiring Creativity – provide a space and props to nurture your budding artist, actor, musician, explorer or engineer.

Something to swing on – and make it long! There is nothing better than the freedom and exhilaration of seeing how high and fast you can go.

Loose parts – unstructured play at its finest – build a collection of pinecones, log rounds, rocks, sticks and seedpods. They have no defined purpose so children can move, sort, cart, roll, build, carry, collect and manipulate how they wish.

Nature play


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