The Power of Nature Play!

In a world where classrooms are defined by a desk and four walls, where technology reigns supreme and helicopter parents continue to wrap their little ones in cotton wool, it’s important we find ways to move beyond those walls, simplify our learning environments and get in touch with the good stuff; sunshine, mud, wind and sand… just to name a few!

Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls. – Erin Kenny

As adults we often think we know what’s best. We notice it’s raining and decide it’s too wet to be outside anymore and of course, we tell children not to jump in those puddles! We justify our reasons for exposing children to technology as early as possible (they’ll be left behind otherwise!!) before having mastered the skills of running, writing or climbing… and of course we stop them from climbing that tree for fear of hurting themselves! Massive generalisations here obviously, but we’ve probably all imposed our adult views upon children when there wasn’t any need to. Our intentions often come from a good place but why do some of us believe these ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’’ things live outside? Why do some of us decide that keeping children cooped up for hours and handing them screens and plastic objects is best?

The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn. – Maria Montessori

As an educator in early childhoood I continue to realise that children will more often than not gravitate towards the outdoors and by taking them out into the world (or at least bringing the outside in!) and giving them the freedom to take risks and explore encourages independence, imagination and creativity. It’s out there where some of the most important and rewarding moments in play and learning occur. The beauty of taking play outside or bringing the beauty of nature inside is that it’s cheap (usually free!), changes with the seasons and is influenced by the natural environment around us!

As I continue to explore an amazing online community of passionate educators who believe in the power of connecting children to nature I felt it necessary to share not only my ideas but theirs… Simple and inspiring ideas that remind us all to get back to basics and enjoy the natural world around us. I hope the following ideas will inspire you to not only incorporate nature into your children’s play environment but to take it outside as often as possible!

Take your playdough activities outside! Love the addition of a mirror!
A bug hotel! Endless opportunities for outdooor learning here.
Go on a nature walk, collect natural materials and make some crowns.
Bring nature indoors to incorporate with playdough experiences.
Sensory bottles to magnify nature.
Wooden people made with branches.
Mud kitchens are a hit when it comes to outside play.
Don’t have a mud kitchen? A simple idea like this solves the problem!
Natural manipulatives likes these help to bring a little of the outside in!
Wilding Wands… Check out more ideas like this from Nature Folk Co. as part of their ‘The Nature Series’ workshops.
Collect all the pretty colours from your garden or next nature walk and get creative!
Using stones like these are great for mindfulness activities.
Chopped up branches for a natural block play experience.
Nature as inspiration for this beautiful invitation to create.
A perfect example of using your surroundings to your advantage when playing and creating.
Story stones to promote a love of literacy and a connection to nature.
Fake snow (real snow would be even better!) and a mixture of natural materials for sensory play.
More sensory fun with grass clippings, sticks and leaves to engage little learners.
Freshly stocked shelves for making all sorts of recipes in our mud kitchen.
Another example of using nature in place of plastic when learning indoors.
Leaves and sticks to explore bugs!
Mud paint using tempera paints and mud (of course!)
Colour match with Autumn leaves.
Fine motor skills with wool and pinecones.
Nature match! A great way to explore symmetry too!
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Nature bunting coloured with beautiful blooms.
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Nature weaving to strengthen those fine motor skills.
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A mortar and pestle is a great addition for this aromatic sensory bin!
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Forget plastic counters… Natural manipulatives are far more interesting!

Some questions to consider…

  • How can we ensure that outdoor experiences aren’t hindered by the weather?
  • Are there indoor spaces that allow for nature to be the focus?
  • How can we use these natural materials in our indoor/outdoor learning environment?
  • How can we add to, manipulate or change these natural materials?
  • What pre-planned ideas can we take with us before we step outside?
  • What will the children teach me today about the natural world?
  • Where will today’s experiences take the learning tomorrow?

Taking it outside shouldn’t be a scary concept and excuses for not going out to play and learn are usually linked to our hang ups as adults. So the next time you take a trip to the park, wander down the street or step into your backyard make sure to breathe the good stuff in and… have fun!

Bree x