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

Teachers are Hoarders

Yep. Teachers have the ability to hoard. It may be organised and neatly labelled (if you’re a little OCD like me!) but when you think about it we tend to own a lot of junk. If we applied these same methods to our personal lives we’d find our houses overflowing with lots of trinkets, plastic bric-a-brac and cushions… so many cushions. Maybe it already is? As we continue upon our hoarding adventures we begin to notice our garages, sheds and classroom cupboards filled to the brim with plastic tubs that are stacked one on top of the other like a carefully constructed tower. Each one labelled to remind us of all the things we own, because maybe one day, say in ten years from now, I might use those Winnie the Pooh Calendar magnets – but only if the kids never touch them because I’m so scared of losing them.

Instead of eliminating the useless to make room for the purposeful we just buy more tubs and find more cupboards to store it all in. For the extreme hoarding teacher, it’s just too late I’m afraid.Your obsession for brightly coloured things that were only 5 for $10 has now begun to spill out into your learning environment, and because you have so many things you don’t think twice at throwing away the resources that have since been trampled on by little feet. This is not good.

Today I sifted through all my teacher ‘stuff‘ that I have had stored away for the last few years during my time between maternity leave and part time work. This year I decided to go through it all and decide what was worth keeping. The rest was to be either recycled or donated.

Well.

I didn’t find much to take back to work with me. All the resources I thought would come in useful one day, the books I bought in bulk because they were cheap, the cushions (Why do I have so many cushions?), and the towers of storage containers… All. The. Crap. Well, most of it doesn’t serve any real purpose or is outdated. I’ve been looking at it all and I’m struggling to see the point to a lot of it because there is so much of it I have never actually used before. Never! It’s all just been there just in case! In case of what!? The day my school suddenly doesn’t have any resources left? Sure some schools might not have an extensive supply for teachers to access  compared to another, or they might not be the prettiest of resources, but I’m almost certain that schools have stuff you can use. I know it’s nice to have your own things, I love having my own resources, but how many times have you decided not to let the kids use certain items because they might ruin them?

My old childhood mags I was too nervous to let my kids read in the classroom library so they never did! Whaaaat!?

It’s this ‘stuff’ that can clutter our rooms and overwhelm us! Of course we can have organised chaos, finding the perfect spot for those ‘one day’ items and make sure they’re out of the way, but I’m just not sure that’s how I want to operate anymore. Out of sight is often out of mind. How many times have you come across things you bought years ago and then completely forgot about? What’s the point of storing all these things if they don’t serve a purpose right now? Why buy something that you might use some day?

Sigh.

So, I’ve been brutal. I have tossed, sorted and donated… I may even sell some things and make some extra cash… and now I feel like I have a clean slate from which to work off. My teacher purchasing rules are as follows…

  1. I willonly purchase items that have a specific purpose, will be utilised on a regular basis and possibly have more than one use.
  2. I will think about how I can be more environmentally friendly, sourcing more sustainable resources that aren’t a part of our throw away culture.
  3. I will make more of an effort to get to know what materials, tools and resources I already have available to me at school and use them regularly.
  4.  I will not buy every cute thing (this includes cushions!) just to decorate my space with. Decorating is awesome but I want it to have purpose – another post for another time though!

Letting go of your things can be hard but the sense of relief is better. I’ve been simplifying things within my personal life for the last year now so applying the same idea to my teaching practice has been a natural step. If you’re new to minimising or thinking about it as a teacher I suggest baby steps and asking yourself the following questions:

Does it serve an educational purpose? 

Does it bring joy to you and your students? 

When you’re honest with yourself you’ll likely find out that you have been hoarding useless crap for a number of years. It’s time to let go of those ‘one day’ items and think about what really matters. We think kids need all the bells and whistles when it comes to our classrooms but you’ll find all too often that they just want you to be present in their lives… but again, that’s another post for another time. 🙂

Let. It. Go.