Getting outside is important for children. It gets them moving and provides exercise. It encourages the use of their senses, allowing opportunities for discovery. It sparks curiosity and imagination. In a time of increasing access to technology and a more sedentary lifestyle, access to the natural world is fundamental to raising a healthy child. Here are five tips for encouraging successful nature play.
- Go outside all year round. Getting out in the summer is much more common than in the winter – the weather is nice, there are many opportunities for swimming, fishing, biking, etc. But there are an equal number of opportunities for outdoor play in the remaining seasons. With the right clothing and layers, nature play is fun during all seasons and in many different weather conditions.
- Allow children to get messy. And dirty. And wet. Be prepared with a change of clothes. With the freedom to become totally immersed in outdoor play, children will truly investigate their environment.
- Encourage curiosity and observations and questions. Don’t be quick to provide an answer to a question, but rather help children make their own discoveries that might lead them to the answer.
- Let the children be the guide. Children will feel empowered about their nature discoveries when they are involved with the planning of the adventure. Going on a nature walk? Let the children choose the trail. Doing a pond investigation and the children have questions about whether certain objects sink or float? Take a few minutes to test some materials out and let them choose the materials.
- Always be respectful of nature. To maintain the beauty of the natural environment, it is important to leave it as you find it. Children can explore their natural environment without damaging it by staying on trails, collecting only fallen items from the ground, and picking up any garbage they use. Encouraging this perspective early on helps it carry into adulthood.