What is Nature Play?
As a child, did you have a favorite spot to play outdoors? Did you have different outdoor activities that fit your mood and needs on any particular day? Did you know that children do some of their best learning through play? As a child develops, so does their play. Let’s take a closer look.
The 6 stages of Play include:
- Unoccupied Play: In the early months of infancy, from birth to about three months, when babies are making random movements with no clear purpose.
- Solitary Play: When toddlers and preschoolers choose to play independently even when they are capable of playing with others.
- Onlooker Play: When toddlers choose to watch other children rather than join in the play.
- Parallel Play: When preschoolers choose to play alongside each other and aren’t influenced by each other’s play.
- Associative Play: When preschoolers begin to work together in Play, yet are not working towards a common goal.
- Cooperative Play: When preschool and/or school-age children play games that allow them to interact with others, express their thoughts, and try out new ideas.
What is Nature Play?
Nature Play is defined as “any activity that gets children active or thinking actively outdoors, with the end goal of building skills and ability to play without the need for parental or adult control.”
Nature Play may look different depending on the age and stage of the child. For infants, Nature Play may be laying on a blanket listening to the wind. For toddlers, Nature Play may be exploring mud in a Mud Kitchen. For preschoolers, Nature Play may be playing with water in a water wall. For school-age children, Nature Play may be organizing a cooperative game. Regardless of age, when children are outdoors they are making their own Nature Connections.
What are the Stages for Nature Connections?
Whether you are a teacher of infant/toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners or school-age children it’s vital to get children outdoors. The benefits of reconnecting children with Nature far outweigh the challenges of getting outdoors. When children make Nature Connections they develop cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills. What stage of Nature Connection are you in?
- Nature Breaks: Spend 10-20 minutes outdoors.
- Reading a story outdoors
- Taking snack outdoors
- Going on a quick hike
- Nature Play: Spend a few consecutive hours outdoors.
- Starting the day outdoors
- Taking lessons outdoors and staying outdoors
- Creating a maintaining a garden
- Nature Immersion: Spend a couple of days visiting a natural landscape
- Go on a field trip to the Audubon
- Invite a program “camp out”
- Disconnect and immerse as a teacher
The 6 Stage of Play provides a guide on how children interact with the world and each other through Play. On the other hand, the Stages of Nature Connection offers us a guide on how much time we spend outdoors and how we might achieve Nature Immersion.
Want to dig deeper into the world of PLAY? Join my conversation with Rusty Keeler at the 2020 Outdoor Classrooms Summit. Rusty Keeler is an author, designer, speaker and leader in the movement to reconnect children to nature through play. Rusty has traveled the world designing natural outdoor play environments and speaking about the benefits and beauty of saying “yes” to children’s play. Described as a cross between Mr. Rogers and Jerry Garcia, Rusty is the author of multiple books on play and playscapes including the upcoming book Adventures in Risky Play: finding our way to yes. He is the co-founder of the social justice initiative called the “Just Play Project” in Ithaca, NY which works to support all children’s right to play. With Rusty’s support, last November the city of Ithaca declared itself America’s first “Free Range Kid” city. Rusty can also be found at EarthPlay.
Now I want to hear from you. What stage of Play are your children in? What stage of Nature Connection is your program? Share your tricks for getting outdoors and what you do once you get there.