Written by Sophie Christophy
Outdoor play. What’s not to love? It’s free. It’s simple. It expends energy.
It is refreshing, relaxing, and restoring. It is a chance to explore, create, imagine, experience, to flex all of the senses. The possibilities are endless, and these benefits are for the whole family, not just the children. Fresh air and a change of scene have the power to miraculously renew and reinvigorate even the most harried parent. Stresses melt away, and there is little choice but to live in the moment. Everyone sleeps better after some time in the great outdoors, and feels better after a hearty dose of the coveted Vitamin D.
I started taking my daughter to the woods weekly once she could walk, although I now realise you are never to young to benefit from play in nature. We went in a group, whatever the weather.
Each week I watched her play, learn, her exploration and curiosity unfolding. I observed her improving and testing her balance, challenging herself physically. She was courageous. She was strong and her abilities and aims were beyond expectation. Given the chance and freedom, she could really explore herself and build confidence in her physical capabilities. I am convinced that these experiences have shaped her, steadied her on her feet and toughened her. She can hold her own and she believes in herself and her abilities in this world.
One of our best weeks it was pouring with rain. At first there was a sense of resistance amongst the adults. This quickly melted – the rain forced us into the moment. The children were in paradise, and a sense of euphoria spread through the group. A muddy lake appeared as if by magic. The children were lost in wonder, their senses totally captured by the sights, smells and sounds of the downpour. The adults were liberated, with wide grins and a rebellious sense of wild abandon. We had water running down our spines, but the play only drew to a close as the sun started to dip and the temperature started to cool. I’ll never forget that week.
How to get the most from outdoor play? Choose a location that fills you with joy. To increase the relaxation and enjoyment – choose somewhere without a playground. A natural space that allows you to let the children go. To let them explore freely, at their own pace and in their own way, whatever their age. No one is too young, even the newborn babe will benefit from time in natural setting. Leave the toys/bikes/scooters at home. Step back. Given the opportunity, children do well at managing their own risks – they have a sense of what is within their ability and what is not. These skills work best with minimum interference – the likelihood is that if a child can climb somewhere on their own, they can cope with where they have climbed. If they have been assisted, this can disturb their ability to manage the risk. Take a passive seat, discreetly follow, enjoy your own journey and observe theirs.
Tips for outdoor play:
- Make it a regular part of your week – same time, same day. Commit to going, whatever the weather – in order to stick to this, invite other people to come with you. It’s always easier when you’ve got a buddy/ies (and will be more fun for you and the children when you are there).
- Be weather prepared – put together a bag with clothing and footwear and any other accessories to accommodate any weather, and keep it ready to go by the front door (an all in one waterproof is highly recommended).
- Find somewhere to go that you love, that you will look forward to going to. You can use this website to find local woodland.
- Take snacks and water.
- Remember that you don’t need to do anything. Given the chance (time and space) the children will find their own way and their own enjoyment of the setting. Leave expectations behind you and go with their flow.
The article featured in the Spring 2013 edition of Harlow and Epping's Roots and Shoots NCT Newsletter (UK).
Photographs by Jacki Davenport, Sophie Christophy and Clare Caro.
...take me back to the A R T I C L E S menu.