For over a decade, Nature Play successfully ran thousands of child-led play sessions in nature!
Coming to a Nature Play session?
Take a moment to read how it works with these Nature Play Guidelines.
At each Nature Play® session we create the space, place, time and opportunity for the child to follow their own play-urges
What kind of play? The word ‘play’ is used in many ways to mean different things. Here at Nature Play we talk about the play intelligence that is embedded into the very nature of the human being. And through play, intelligence unfolds.
Play Is In The Child
Children of all ages follow their genetically encoded play-urges naturally. We can see these Universal Play Patterns being played out today, just as they have throughout time, in every culture, on all continents. Play is the opportunity for children to become capable, do things themselves, grow their autonomy and learn how to learn. Because play intelligence is ‘built in’, it means that the child can lead their own play – without being taught or having toys, activities or ‘helping hands’. When play unfolds for the player they know exactly what to do, in the right sequence, and at the right pace. And they find around them all the objects they need for their play.
In play the child is capable
Play intelligence grows skills that children take with them through life – benefits such as problem solving and lengthy attention spans, self-confidence and motivation, self-direction and creativity, social skills and imagination, physical agility and spatial awareness, risk management and working within one’s own capabilities … and so much more!
Children who play in nature gain a valuable, sensory-rich relationship with nature.
Nature Play provides the child with the space, place and time to follow their own play-urges – and you are the secure base
To provide our children with the opportunity to play as nature intended - they need plenty of the space, time to play uninterrupted, in a play-rich environment from a secure base.
You Are The Secure Base
Your role is important in these sessions. YOU are everything your child needs to feel safe, and when children feel safe they can play with their full attention. Because play is an ‘inside job’, our ‘external care’ takes on a different role when supporting our children at play. We don’t just ‘leave our children to play’, far from it, we are present in a different way. We are the secure base for our children to move from and return to, the eyes of support, and there to step in only when necessary.
Step back and observe your children at play
When we step back we allow the child the freedom they need to unfold at their own pace. When we observe we see our children grow capable and confident, while at the same time providing them with the security and freedom they need to thrive.
Nature Play environments are carefully selected for their peaceful beauty and have something for every age and stage of development to delight in
Each session starts with creating an environment that feels safe and secure for both adult and child. We do this through connection. At Nature Play we recognise that play is richer and deeper when the child feels secure.
Here’s how we begin… Faces become familiar when we meet and greet everyone before setting off as a group. Group numbers are managed – because too many faces can feel overwhelming. On our walk we slow the pace down. A big part of connecting with each other and supporting play is slowing down and in order to do this we must first slow down ourselves. We establish a base with our belongings. This serves as an anchor point for us and for the children – a place to rest, or a place to move from and return to. There is time to settle in and become familiar with the sensory-rich environment of our base, while we make time for tea and a small snack. We talk with each other and include everyone in the conversation. It feels good to include everyone in the conversation, which can mean adjusting how we talk about our children in front of them. Every week we repeat the same journey to the same spot – the familiar environment and routine brings confidence in the known. Every group is run by a Nature Play Host to welcome and guide you through the session.
This beginning connection is your time to connect with your child. Your child might ask to spend more of the session connecting with you – we see children leading their adults on walks or simply enjoying sitting together.
When the snacks are packed away, we invite you to shift your attention, as we open up the space for the children.
We Invite You To Observe
We have come up with a list of Nine Top Tips to help ‘play-allies’ like you in your role:
1. Slow down. Wait. See what unfolds and start noticing what your children are capable of.
2. Eye contact. We can’t stress enough the importance of eye contact – make your eyes available when near or far. All children need to ‘check in’ with their ‘secure base’ during play, particularly when they move further away – and you need to ‘keep check’ to ensure their world is safe. Eye contact doesn’t interrupt play, so take a seat and observe.
3. The child moves from their secure base (you) when they are ready. Play is self-chosen so your child will choose when to get up and go – which means you stay in one place, or off to the side, where you are not encroaching on their space.
4. The youngest players (babies) always start on their back. Play begins with Movement. On their back babies can move limbs and look around and should always be able to see you, their secure base. The move from your arms to your baby’s own play needs your careful attention. When you tune into to your baby’s cues and movements, you will feel/know when she is ready to move into her own play. Responding to her ready cues, by slowing down, holding eye contact and talking her through this move, you offer a secure transition. From lying on her back your baby is capable of playing her way to crawling, sitting and walking without your ‘helping hands’.
5. Young explorers are all about Movement and Exploration work together. Moving towards new things to pick up and taste takes them on mini adventures. First getting to know the edge of the mat, then taking ever growing circles, exploring and returning back to your side. You may need to get a closer view of what is being explored, so consider looking from the side with enough room for ‘the return’.
6. Children often want to explore further. Most children will only go as far as their feelings of safety will stretch from you, their secure base (the ‘invisible safety line’). If you move with them, they will keep going, but if you stay still they will find the edge of their safety line. For the more experienced explorers, let them know one of the oldest rules of the forest – always stay where they can see you.
7. On cold or wet days, standing may be preferred. In very wet or sub-zero conditions, keeping on the move may suit the day.
8. When we see risk, conflict, struggle or falls in play,
these are not cues to offer help. It can feel uncomfortable watching someone struggle when we are used to helping. We invite you to notice the difference between risks and hazards, conflict and aggressive behavior, struggle and suffering. Children are capable of picking themselves up – but only if we give them the space to be capable.
9. Players used to being helped and entertained may take a while to grow into their capabilities. Nature Play offers this safe and secure space, place and time to adjust and grow at the pace right for the person.
Children who are capable are safe
Unnecessary Play Interruptions
Traditionally a lot of play is interrupted in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘helping’ the child to become capable. These well-intentioned interruptions are counterproductive to both play and safety. Referring back to the list of benefits: Problem solving cannot develop when we step in to fix problems for them. Lengthy attention spans cannot develop when we interrupt with our questions, praise, frequent warnings and entertainment. Self-confidence and self-motivation cannot develop when we prompt them into being ready. Self-direction and creativity develop when we stop having ideas for them, such as setting up activities and directing them. Social skills cannot develop when we are hovering and looking for ‘teaching moments’. Physical agility and spatial awareness cannot develop when we help them to balance or climb, or put them into positions that are way beyond their own capabilities. Imagination cannot develop when we remove their found treasures and give them image-ready toys. Risk management and working within one’s own capabilities are impossible when there are ‘helping hands’ managing them beyond their own capabilities.
At Nature Play we refrain from imposing our external influences on our children’s play. We only interrupt when absolutely necessary.
Nature Play needs to be a safe place for everyone
Interrupting Play When Necessary
A safe and secure environment is integral for play to thrive. The physically safe and emotionally secure environment, together provide the right conditions for optimal learning. The brain’s learning activity shuts down when we don’t feel safe. Play is by nature a peaceful experience where the player manages their excitement and risk. Occasionally we need to step in and restore the safe and secure environment. We step in to stop aggressive-violent behavior (such as harming others or oneself, or destroying property), where there is a hazard (rotten wood or poisonous plants), or when a child is out of their depth and unable to manage physically or emotionally.
If you spot a potentially unsafe situation developing, move in calmly and quietly. If you need to break the silence, choose respectful language so as not pass judgment or interrupt play too much. Use a calm tone of voice and clear descriptions of what it is you are doing. We move in quickly to block any unwanted physical contact or falls. When a child is ‘out of control’ we return them to the secure base to reconnect and calmly restore their self-control.
Please Bring With You a small, healthy snack to share, a cup for tea, something to sit on, and weather appropriate clothing and footwear.
Please Leave Behind pushchairs, child reins, dogs, toys and tools.
Responsibility We encourage an atmosphere of free play for the children. However, you will be responsible for your own child, yourself and your belongings. For safety reasons, you are welcome at Nature Play only when accompanied by a child (unless two adults attend for the same child) and when no more than three children are in the care of a single adult.
Behaviour Nature Play must be a safe place for everyone. If anyone is repeatedly aggressive, we may ask you to leave.
Leave No Trace Make sure you take your rubbish with you, including anything biodegradable as it changes the soil pH. Please also ensure that logs which have been upturned during play are returned to their original position. This is to protect micro-habitats and minimize disturbance.
Photographs Nature Play Hosts take photos for social media. If you do not want your child featuring in photos on social media, please let the host know in advance.
Copyright © Nature Play®, All rights reserved
First published 2017. Updated Dec 2020.