At Eco Explorers, we are passionate about nature play for children and families. We believe that all children have a right to play as it helps them develop into confident, resilient and healthy children. Our vision is to connect families back to nature so that children have a childhood filled with memories and rich outdoor play experiences that they will treasure forever.
What is nature play?
Nature play is time spent playing outdoors in nature and true nature play is free and unstructured play that is led completely by the child, not an adult. Sadly, children these days spend a lot less time playing outside due to our current lifestyles, time limitations, too much focus on structured activities and concerns about risk and safety. But most adults would think back on their childhood and favourably recall memories about times spent outdoors, playing and exploring freely.
Nature play might seem simple and even unimportant to some, but it provides the optimum environment for your child to develop the necessary skills to thrive and learn. In fact, nature is the only playground your child needs and the only classroom they need to learn. Children can use nature loose parts such as sticks, rocks and leaves to build and create with. They can jump and splash in water and play in mud, mixing to make mud, and use this for painting, pretend cooking or simply to enjoy how it feels. They can explore using their senses and discover local flora and fauna they share the area with. The variations in the landscape and its contents offer myriad chances for pretend and imaginative play.
Nature play is open-ended. Things found in nature that are included in play can be used in so many ways. This is unlike many man-made toys that exist today, that are capable of being played with in limited ways only. The outdoor environment is vast and variable, offering numerous ways of playing in it. Nature empowers children to play in nature in a way that is best for them as growing and developing individuals.
Why is nature play important in early childhood?
Development in humans occurs at its most significant rate and level in the early childhood years. Our needs associated with the physical, social and emotional changes occurring at this time can be met through playing in nature.
Outdoor play offers physical benefits at a time when children are learning about the capabilities of their bodies. The changing landscape outside sees muscle development and spatial awareness occurring by running, jumping and building on different surfaces and height levels. Balance and coordination are practiced and strengthened when climbing or travelling on uneven terrains. Motor skills are fine tuned through movement and use of the objects present in nature, from small to large.
The open-ended scope of nature play encourages development of creativity in children as they expand their play around the things they are using. Playing in nature gives them many opportunities to risk assess themselves, helping them to learn this very valuable and necessary skill that they can use in all facets of their lives. Spending time in nature is well known to reduce stress and improve mental well being in both children and adults alike. Playing with others in nature has been observed to be different as well – children are more likely to resolve differences and come to agreements themselves without the need for adult assistance.
Playing in nature supports a child’s love for nature and helps to develop this love further into action. Children learn about the world they inhabit and whom they share it with when they play outdoors. This knowledge often leads to a sense of custodianship and empathy for their world. Having developed this at a young age, children are more likely to want to care for it when they are older.
Want to encourage more nature play and in need of inspiration and ideas? You are in the right place! Here at Eco Explorers, we live and love nature play and run a variety of nature play programs for children in person that you can find here. We also have a range of nature play resources, online nature play programs and outdoor learning resources to help you along the way.