Monday, 7 January 2013

Nature PLAY

 Nature - it really is a wonderful thing when playing - it can provide EVERYTHING you need - although it can be enhanced with magnifying glasses, binoculars and small buckets and boxes for collecting things! Books with information about tree names, animal names etc can also be a great thing to have with you - as sometimes you get asked questions about things you really have no idea about - sometimes I know what a flower is in one language but not both - many times I have not got a clue in either English or Swedish and its great to be able to learn TOGETHER with the children.

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


  1. "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."

    I think that we have to keep this in mind, as you say, not all children are alike. But I also don't think that loving nature and enjoying nature in this way is necessarily something that all children can do either. My son for instance would only tolerate so much outdoor play. From the age of three he screamed every time I tired to take him for a walk, so that in the end I had to hire someone to walk my dogs.

    It turned out that he has a physical genetic condition that means he is in constant pain when standing or walking, and I didn't realise this until he was 7.

    I felt like you that nature play and free play was very important, but to a certain extent I actually put him off playing outdoors, as he came to associate it with pain. He is now 16 and spends all his time indoors, usually at his computer, as that it the only thing he can do. He has no interest in what goes on in our garden or on the organic farm next door.

    As for imagination, my son before the age of three rejected the concept of Father Christmas, as well as the Tooth Fairy, but had no problem understanding quantum physics. Our imaginative play usually involved travelling though quantum worm holes, fairies were met with derision.

    So I guess you could say that my son was interested in nature, but not in the way that you or I would expect. And it was in a way that matched his physical capabilities; sitting at a computer! By trying to expose him to nature and free play outdoors, I actually put him off it.

  2. Thank you soo much for sharing that Abbie, I feel it is very important that we SEE each child and not just force them outside because "its good for them" - for your son it obviously was not good for him in the traditional way of outdoor playing - who knows what you would have been able to do had you known earlier and could have adapted outdoor play - or brought more nature indoors. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been in those first years, and also what a relief it must have been to find out why... even though it brings its hardships...

    I think he has not lacked imagination - from your description he and you have appeared to have shared an imagination beyond many capabilities - imagining space, imagining quantum worm holes etc requires a great deal of imagining indeed - all forms of problem solving requires imagination - without it a child/adult would find it much more difficult to come up with a solution...

    Children are amazing, and so unique - and its why it is so important that we allow children to dictate their free-play - and that we as adults are observant and listening so that we are better able to provide the right environment for play and learning for ALL children. Whether that be access to free play in nature/outdoors or a different kind of free play that we as adults have never seen or thought of yet...

    Thank you again Abbie for sharing.