By Hannah Candy
A tidal wave of evidence highlighting the benefits of nature play for young children, particularly on their well-being, development and learning, has been picking up momentum for some time now. Connecting with nature helps us to understand and care for ourselves, each other and our Earth. Playing in and with nature is a simple yet powerful tool that can provide huge benefits that contribute to happy and healthy children.
Nature play gives young children the opportunity to connect with the natural world. If we want them to know this place first over a digital world we need to allow for outdoor play opportunities; to know what soil in their hands feels like, what summer flowers smell like and what a hollow tree looks like. These natural experiences are a sensory experience that help to build a knowledge and experience of nature.
Can I jump from this log to that one over there? Outdoor play helps children to build trust in their own capabilities. When they don’t make the leap between logs, or the swing between branches, they quickly learn to trust their own limits. They then come to know that we as adults trust them as capable. We are building solid foundations for their further development. Learning to trust their physical capabilities like running, jumping, swinging can give children greater confidence in social, emotional and thinking abilities.
Play is where children get to make their own decisions. Learning to make choices in a child’s life is a big step in their journey to independence. As adults we need to allow this to happen by stepping back to permit unstructured play. When I watch and listen to the children playing in the tree house I don’t feel the need to turn everything into a learning opportunity or activity. Being outside in nature can help adults to sit back and quietly observe how children are making choices for themselves.
While we need to support independent play, children still need an adult to ‘hold space’ in order for them to reach a state of free flow play where they feel safe. Our presence is important to their play and sense of security. When children need us either physically or emotionally we are right there for them again.
When play is taken outdoors I get the sense that this same ‘holding of space’ dynamic happens, this time with Mother Nature being the one who can allow children to feel safe and secure in their play. It is in the fairy tree house, the mud kitchen or the chicken pen that I witness children feeling comfortable enough to let their play ‘go, to’ exactly where it needs to be.
Experiences outdoors are a doorway into connecting with Australian Indigenous perspectives. Through stories, songs and language children can learn about the Indigenous culture relevant to the area they are playing in and the traditional connections to the land. We have the opportunity to foster a deep appreciation, respect and care for the unique Australian land and animals. Naturally, these experiences will help future generations to bridge the gap between Australians and promote reconciliation and harmony.
Hannah runs nature-based play sessions aiming to connect children to nature through a balance of engaging activities and unstructured play. Sessions include nature inspired craft, imaginative play, music and sensory activities. Sessions run weekdays from 9:30 – 2:30 in the Western Port area. As group sizes are very small bookings are essential.
Contact Hannah for more information and to make a booking on 0479 060 355 or check out her Facebook page @Bushkinda