Nature Play has been designed to bring together three key elements that contribute to the healthy development of the child; time spent outdoors in nature, 100% child-led play and offering the adult’s ways in which to support children in their child-led play.
This combination offers the child a way in which to build a relationship with the Earth, which is so important in this day and techno-age. Even though there are multiple benefits from being outside in inspiring ‘natural playgrounds’, our main goal is to offer babies, toddlers and young children optimum learning opportunities through uninterrupted child-led play.
Nature is child-led play
As the name ‘child-led' play- suggests, the child takes the lead following their own play urges.
These ‘urges’ are genetically encoded play-patterns that come from deep within the human child. As the child plays out these universal patterns (sometimes referred to as schemas), they master the use of their bodies, learn social skills, solve problems, discover their world, and in the process they experience joy in their ability and their achievements.
Child-led play asks us to take a step back, and when we do we notice things about play we have forgotten in this commercial age:
- We notice that babies and children don’t need toys to be able to play; toys actually hinder quality nature play.
- Children don’t have to be taught how to play - play simply unfolds when we provide the right environment.
- Play doesn’t have - or need - an end result.
- The player doesn’t benefit from being interrupted.
Taking children outdoors is the easy bit, and the difference the absence of walls and ceiling make becomes clear very quickly. Adults find that their mood changes (for the better) as do the children’s. Interests are sparked by ever changing surroundings. When you find an inspiring Nature Play setting close by, whether its a corner of the local park or a piece of woodland, you have found an outdoor playground can offer endless possibilities for exploration, imagination and creativity – and especially when you don’t take toys and objects.
With this in mind, as facilitators we can provide a rich play-base outdoors, when we choose our ‘playscape’. We look for a mix of natural features, a rich ‘playscape’ might include slopes, fallen trees, low branches, an area where they can go wondering and still be seen and safe, and a flat area for resting or little ones who are not yet mobile. It will also contain the ‘loose parts’ children can’t resist, such as sticks, rocks, leaves and acorns, all necessary props for imagination and play.
Play – what is our role?
When we take a closer look at what play is, and the fact that play is a built-in program ready to unfold, we might ask ourselves, what is our role in all this?
- We take a seat together, the young baby is placed on the ground beside you and the mobile child will head off to play when they are ready. You can’t ‘bring on’ play for a person if it comes from within, so let them choose when they are ready to engage.
- We slow down and stand back.
- We provide inspiring environments with open-ended playscapes rich in loose parts that facilitate our developing child’s play needs.
- We make sure that children have appropriate clothing, especially for outdoor conditions.
- We make sure that blood sugar and liquid levels need to be maintained for everyone to function at their best.
- We sit quietly with focused attention toward our children at play, yet careful not to break their concentration. They will glance at us if they need reassurance. When we limit our involvement to eye contact and facial expressions we meet their needs for ‘safety with backup’ without interrupting their play and discovery.
- If we need to break the silence we choose respectful language so as not pass judgment or interrupt their flow of development too much. A calm tone of voice and clear descriptions of what it is you are informing the person concentrating in play.
- If you see a potential safety, conflict or violent situation developing, move in calmly and quietly. Your calm presence is often enough reassurance for the child trying something new. Move in quickly to prevent any unwanted physical contact in conflict or in potential fall situations.
- If invited to join the play, take the passive role and follow the children’s lead and suggestions because it is their play.
- If they don’t feel like playing and would rather sit with you, that is okay too, we are there to meet those needs of comfort and reassurance.
This new role is a more relaxed role that offers you the privilege of seeing the genius of play unfolding. You learn more about your children, their choices, their interests and where they are up to in their development while they play. This serves to strengthen the bond and understanding you have already grown between you. This surely is a win-win situation.
This article was written for and featured in PACEY Childcare Professional Magazine Summer 2016.
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