Wonders to see, smell, touch and hear, Nature delights us all through the year, With beauty that’s ours to enjoy and protect, Because nature deserves our love and respect.
– Disney Winnie the Poo “Nature’s True Colours”
In today’s busy world we tend to spend more time indoors and less time connecting with the natural environment. Our backyards are smaller/ non-existent if living in a unit or townhouse, playgrounds are made of unnatural brightly coloured plastic with rubber mat flooring, parents work longer hours sometimes commuting for hours per day and children spend a lot more time on screens or in organised activities. According to Curtin University academic Sonja Kuzich, there has been a 60% drop in outside play in one generation. What an unfortunate statistic, considering that it has been widely demonstrated that children gain many benefits from exposure to and engagement with nature.
Playing in nature makes healthy, happy children
“Green environments are an essential component of a healthy human habitat” according to Frances Ming Kuo, a researcher documenting the positive link between nature and human health, and social and psychological functioning. Kou summarizes various research studies that show that humans benefit from exposure to green environments (parks, forests, gardens, etc.) and conversely, people with less access to green places report more medical symptoms and poorer health overall. Kuo uses the phrase “Vitamin G” (G for “green”) to capture nature’s role as a necessary ingredient for a healthy life. Evidence suggests that, like a vitamin, contact with nature and green environments is needed in frequent, regular doses.
Research also says that children who play regularly in natural settings are sick less often, they tend to be more physically active and therefore less likely to be overweight, and they are more resistant to stress with lower incidence of behavioural disorders, anxiety and depression and have a higher measure of self-worth. What’s more time spent experiencing the joy and wonder of nature builds strong foundations for a lifelong passion to explore, discover, question and appreciate nature.
Children are healthier and happier when they have the opportunity to play outside every day and we as parents have the ability to give our children the opportunities for outdoor play that we enjoyed ourselves as children.
You can introduce your baby from just a few months old to nature-based activities in the back yard and the great outdoors.
- Make mud pies.
- Feel moss, leaves, feathers and other textures.
- Tickle your baby’s cheek or tummy with a flower or feather.
- Let them walk around the yard bare-footed.
- Float flowers, leaves and feathers in puddles or shallow water.
- Read stories or enjoy family meals outside.
- Sing some songs as you lie together on a blanket watching the clouds (for song ideas check out here. My program includes themed sessions such as “Birdie, Birdie”, “Bee Bee Bumblebee” and “In the Garden”).
- Take your baby on a sensory nature walk through a forest/rainforest/bushland. Point out sounds as they happen around you and label them ie. Can you hear the …(bird in the tree)? Bring your baby’s attention to sights such as birds, insects, flowers and colour. Pick a flower or piece of grass and let your baby smell it. Run the flower/grass down their arm. Give your baby a brown leaf to crunch between their fingers (just watch they don’t try and eat it!).
- Hold your baby while they paddle hands and feet in muddy puddles or shallow water – good for senses and gross motor skills for strength with walking and standing.
Nature Play Ideas for Toddlers
- Play in the rain
- Collect natural materials to make instruments from when you return home
- Jump and play in leaves
- ‘Paint’ mud on things outside with brushes or branches.
- Attach material or ribbons to trees and bushes to watch fluttering in the breeze.
- Go on a rock collecting expedition
- Find gumnuts or big seeds and roll between your hands. Bury them in the sand to dig up again with a stick.
Nature Play Ideas for Preschoolers
- Grow some sunflowers
- Run through sprinklers or the hose.
- Ride little bikes through puddles.
- Make a birdbath for your garden to encourage the birds. Keep it simple and cheap: place a shallow terracotta plant base on a tree stump.
- Explore the local creek/waterway (my husband likes to tell our girls there’s a hungry bunyip living in one of the little waterholes in our creek, which absolutely delights and ignites their imagination)
- Skip rocks in the creek/pond
- Get your child a magnifying glass to explore plants and insects
- Collect pine cones and take along some patty pans – serve the pinecones in the pans as food in an outdoor cafe
Have fun getting closer to nature and creating health and happiness for your whole family!