If you’ve ever watched children experience pure wonder while exploring outdoors, you’ve witnessed the magic of nature play. As the founder of a website promoting nature play, I’m way overdue in writing this blog post.
Whether it’s climbing trees, splashing in puddles, or observing tiny creatures, nature play offers a world of endless exploration and learning opportunities. Let’s learn how nature nurtures children’s growth, creativity, and connection with the natural world.
What is Nature Play?
Nature play is engaging in play and exploration in natural outdoor environments such as a park, backyard, forest, field, or beach.
Nature play can include hiking, camping, swimming, or simply exploring the outdoors. For children, nature play activities can consist of the following:
- scavenger hunts
- star gazing
- planting seeds
- playing in a mud kitchen
- jumping in leaves
- digging in the sand
- collecting rocks or seashells
- walking in a stream
- sledding in the snow
- searching for bugs
- climbing trees
- …and so much more!
Nature play has many benefits for kids, such as:
- improving physical health and fitness
- reducing stress
- instilling a sense of curiosity
- stimulating the senses
- expanding attention
Get inspired to spend time in nature with these outdoor play quotes.
What Do Children Learn Through Nature Play?
Nature play is an incredible opportunity for children to learn and develop. By immersing themselves in nature, kids can explore their interests, push their physical limits, and engage in hands-on learning experiences that bring STEM concepts to life in meaningful and sensory-rich ways.
Beyond academics, spending time outside expands empathy, instills a sense of environmental stewardship, and nurtures children’s imagination and creativity. Children can freely express their ideas in an unstructured play environment with almost limitless possibilities.
Examples of Nature Play
Children of all ages can participate in nature play. Check out these examples of nature play and discover fun learning ideas for your child or classroom.
Nature Play Ideas for Babies
Keep nature play for babies very simple! At this age, nature play introduces infants to the sensory experiences of spending time outside.
Here are some nature play activities appropriate for babies:
Nature Play Ideas for Toddlers
Toddlers are ready to participate in hands-on nature play activities. This means more exploring outside and nature-based sensory play indoors too!
Here’s a list of nature play activities perfect for one-year-olds and two-year-olds:
Nature Play Ideas for Preschool & Kindergarten
At this stage of play development, children are ready to use props and nature objects to engage deeper in nature play. Preschoolers and Kindergarteners are also ready to learn how humans can help (or hurt!) the environment.
Nature Play Tips & Safety
Here are some essential safety tips for nature play with children:
- Choose age-appropriate environments: Select natural settings suitable for your child’s age and developmental stage. Always actively scan the area for possible hazards.
- Dress appropriately: Dress your child in clothing and footwear suitable for outdoor play. Consider the weather and dress children in layers to quickly adapt to weather changes. According to LiveWellWithKrystal.com, protective clothing and safe sunscreen can reduce the harmful effectives of the sun.
- Be mindful of allergies: Educate yourself about common allergens in the natural environment, such as specific plants, insects, or pollen. Take precautions if your child has known allergies or sensitivities.
- Stay hydrated: Encourage regular water breaks, especially during hot weather or physical activities.
- Supervise actively: Always supervise your child closely during nature play.
- Teach respect for plants and wildlife: Teach your child to observe wildlife from a safe distance. Talk to children about how to respect animals’ homes and the importance of coexisting harmoniously with nature.
- Watch out for poisonous plants: Familiarize yourself with poisonous plants commonly found in your area, such as poison ivy or poison oak.
- Check for ticks and other insects: Carefully check your child for ticks or insect bites after nature play. Use insect repellents to minimize the risk of bites.
- Be prepared for emergencies: Carry a basic first aid kit with essential supplies during nature outings. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and be ready to handle minor injuries or emergencies that may occur.
- Teach and model responsible behavior: Instill a sense of responsibility and safe behavior in your child. Teach them to respect boundaries, be aware of their surroundings, and make safe choices while playing outdoors.
Whether exploring parks, nature preserves, or even urban green spaces, nature play provides countless opportunities for discovery, investigation, and a deeper connection to the natural world.
Nature play inspires conservation and environmental stewardship, starting in a kid’s own backyard adventures. Parents and educators can involve kids in local conservation efforts, empowering them to make a real impact in their communities.