25th August 2022 All Posts Insights Expert Advice

Nature-Based Play in the Early Years

As a society, we are all doing what we can to be more mindful, conscious, and respectful of the natural world around us in order to care for and preserve it for our children’s futures. 

Outdoor play has always been a significant component in children’s early learning opportunities and experiences and something all settings should value highly. 

Children immersing themselves in nature, being outdoors, feeling and touching the earth and all of the beautiful natural materials we are lucky to have around us is invaluable to their learning and development journeys and something as practitioners and educators we should never take for granted and should always ensure we encourage children to explore and immerse themselves in. 

Many settings worry about the types of opportunities and resources they provide within their outdoor space and whether these are beneficial for children’s learning and development, but we must remember that regardless of the type of outdoor space we have as a setting or the types of natural materials readily available in our outdoor spaces, children are can learn just as much, if not more, from natural play resources and opportunities such as trees, breakwaters, streams, the beach, rope swings and other natural, readily available opportunities that the natural world and the vast space, freedom and natural beauty we are all lucky enough to have within our localities. 

From hands-on and meaningful interactions with the natural world, children learn invaluable skills and develop an incredible thirst for knowledge about the world around them. 

Similarly, even the very youngest children within your setting can benefit from nature play and offering open-ended experiences and opportunities to explore natural resources and the great outdoors allows children to make that connection to nature and the Earth from their earliest experience.

A connection between nature and nature-based play has been proven to significantly impact not only children’s learning and development opportunities but it is also proven to have significant calming influences on their moods and behaviours simultaneously. 

A study in Canada in 2017 studied the effects of increased opportunities for nature and risky play in 2 different settings. 

The researchers discovered that in the setting that had more natural elements to their play, they noticed a significant impact on the children’s play, social behaviours and mental health – particularly when playing independently and socially.  

The study also found that educators observed “improved socialisation, problem-solving, focus, self-regulation, creativity and self-confidence, and reduced stress, boredom and injury.”

Not only this but by experiencing nature play firsthand within their early years education, children are becoming more responsible for the world around them, taking care of their environment, learning about life cycles, growth and decay and the changing seasons which is invaluable learning for children so young. 

Nature play is accessible to everyone within the early years sector, it’s free and it is readily available and we should ensure that outdoor nature play is a key component of our pedagogy regardless of our localities and the types of outdoor spaces available to us – children need to learn about nature in every season, every environment and every stage of the growth and decay process and the only way they will be able to do that is if we provide ample opportunities for hands-on and real-life exploration of the world around us. 

As the whole world shifts towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly existence, exposing children to nature play within their early years is not only incredibly beneficial for the children and their learning and development but subsequently helps us to raise a generation of children who are environmentally aware of the importance of preserving the natural world, ways in which they can look after and nurture nature and the outdoor spaces available to them, in addition to the incredible cognitive skills and benefits nature play also possesses. 

References

First Five Years – “The benefits of nature play for children”

Accessed online: 

https://www.firstfiveyears.org.au/early-learning/the-benefits-of-nature-play-for-children(August 18th 2022)

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About the Author

Chloe is a board Trustee at Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and an OFSTED registered childminder. Chloe has 8 years of experience post-qualifying, and came from a nursery background before becoming a home-based childcarer at Pebbles Childcare. Chloe is a successful writer, contributing to Nursery World, EYE, Nursery Management Today and ABC magazine, as well as managing the Pebbles Childcare Blog.