The uneven surface of nature is also a great way to stimulate gross motor skills - I have seen children competent in the playground having to almost re-learn how to walk in nature - stumbling and tripping like a page from Going on a Bear Hunt!
My children's favourite days from our holidays are the slow one in nature where they have been able to explore and play at their own rate - filled with animal discoveries like insects, lizards, frogs, or at the beach - crabs, fish and starfish... then there are the building tools - stones and sticks, other discoveries of seeds, pods, fossils etc to collect. Tracks and other clues to find about larger animals that are around but not always seen ... and of course learning about what is edible and what is not... where food comes from...
Taking care of nature, learning to respect it has been an important part of my children's play... learning about risk, how high can you climb in a tree that is safe for yourself (you need to be able to get down as well as up) and also that it's not going to harm the tree...
Then there is the imagination ... who lives in the forest - fairies, trolls, are we in a distant land, or have the bushes transformed into an underground grotto? The possibilities for role-play and other social games is almost limitless...
OK the weather might not always be great - but each weather brings with it something new - wet rainy days bring mud, snow brings a whole load of possibilities, hot dry days brings a longing for the cool shade or to collect crunchy leaves or play with dry cracked mud.
I also think that we have to accept that not all children are going to love nature straight away - there are those who do not like getting wet or muddy, or feeling cold, there are those who freak out when they see ants or birds... Its why I personally could not work at a preschool that was always outside - as I see so many children that NEED to spend part of their days indoors. As a child I HATED eating outdoors - in fact so much I used to dread summer because then we had to - "we need to get outdoors as much as possible while we can"... I hated how the insects buzzed round my food, or how things got blown onto the table or being blown off the table. I liked even less sitting on the ground trying to balance my food on a plate or keeping my drink from spilling all over the picnic mat. I liked to eat, I liked to socialise - there were just too many other distractions eating outside.
Its why I always feel there has to be balance - there has to be a chance for all children to feel comfortable at least part of the week - for the "indoor children" to learn to love the outdoors, they need to feel positive about it - that's why a balance of indoor and outdoors can be good for these children - maybe just a small group can go inside to eat and tell each other stories and do some other activity together.
Its about looking at the children. See how they play. See how they learn. And then to offer the right learning/play environments. Nature can be brought inside, it does not have to be confined to the outdoors arena...
|we are lucky because next to our little house in the woods are a field full of cows - part of an organic dairy farm. So picking up the windfall apples to give to the cows has become a great game...|
|climbing trees is always fun|
|some apples for us - some for the cows!|
|Bug hunting has always been a popular activity in our family. Its been one of my proudest achievements - not to pass on my fear of creepy.crawlies onto the children - they are unafraid to look for and handle all bugs!|
|many hours can be spent building cities from twigs and branches|
|close encounters with reptiles - one of Michael's favourite.|
|close encounters with the wildlife at the sea-shore|
|risk taking - nature's climbing frame at Brimham Rocks (one of my favourite places as a child now shared with my own children)|
|building with stones and rocks|
|daring to hold snails - most of the preschool children did not dare to pick them up at first|
|sticks and sand - not much else is needed - art in dry weather and mud in wet weather!|
|many many hours are spent looking for toads and frogs (and mushroom picking and wild strawberries and blueberries etc)|
|farm visiting means getting to meet the babies! and learning more about where food comes from|
|nature does not have to be experienced outside - nature can be brought inside too - cones, stones, sticks - all sorts to create art with, to build with or just to soften the appearance of the indoor environment|