tree climbingIn the previous post I set out some of the ‘natural’ ingredients of designed  ‘play landscapes’. What can parents do to increase the natural play opportunities for their children? Here are ten tips – why not try to use them over the half term holidays?

1. Ask yourself, how can your children have the same exciting opportunities to play naturally as you did? Remember your own childhood memories of playing in natural places: damming, running, climbing, digging, building, splashing, dreaming, chatting and watching are just some of the great natural play memories adults have.

2. Allow children the time and space to discover natural play opportunities for themselves. Natural spaces are the ultimate play environments and children instinctively seek out and discover ways in which to interact with and use nature. Children who have direct, playful experiences of nature are most likely to develop caring attitudes and behaviours in later life.

3. Find out where the nearest natural spaces are to you. Children need everyday nature. This includes free access to parks, gardens, city farms, village greens, hedgerows and rough ground within easy reach of their homes, as well as visits to woodlands, beaches and open grassland further afield.

den

Den building

4. Provide old clothes and outdoor gear. This will help children play naturally in all weathers. Getting muddy, wet or sweaty and coming home with snagged or grass stained clothing is just part of playing outdoors. Opportunities to play with nature, through climbing trees, exploring the world of animals, building dens or making mud pies, are fun and help children to cultivate an awareness of and respect for nature.

Natural play areas need to be managed and sometimes benefit from man-made add ons

Most natural play areas need to be managed and sometimes benefit from man-made add ons

5. Encourage children to play out and inspire them with the magic of natural spaces. Sensitive adults can support and enthuse children by sharing the sense of wonder of the natural world and jointly uncovering its mysteries and surprises. Stories, costumes, treasure trails and quests can gently kindle the flames of children’s imaginations when playing in natural settings. Outdoor natural spaces allow children to be spontaneous and create and explore their own imaginary worlds.

picture- Emma Bradshaw

Exploring nature- picture: Emma Bradshaw

6. Help children take risks in play, like climbing trees. Children need and want to take risks through play. Playing in natural settings allows children to find ways of challenging themselves and taking risks that fit them as individuals. Be open and transparent about what is involved in natural play activities so that children playing outdoors can experience the fun and excitement of stretching and testing themselves.

7. Find your nearest adventure playground. If parents and children prefer to play with adults around, adventure playgrounds usually have some natural areas. In some areas there may be play workers or park keepers who encourage children to play in natural spaces. Ask you local council what supervised play opportunities are provided locally.

Simple pleasures- a nest created from cut grass, gravel and cotton wool

Simple pleasures- a nest created from sticks, cut grass, gravel and cotton wool..

8. Look out for opportunities for free natural supplies. Children love to move things around and rearrange their play spaces. Natural resources, like tree and hedge trimmings make great den-building materials. Good play spaces can be made by adding natural elements into children’s outdoor playgrounds, such as trees and plants, earth, rocks, logs, water and natural moveable objects.

9. Stick up for children’s right to play naturally outdoors.Children need advocates who can help them find natural places to play. Encourage children to play naturally in your area, call on your local authority to provide accessible wild spaces for children to play in, and support your local play centre to run environmental play sessions in outdoor settings. Possibly lobby for ‘play landscapes’ that include a mixture of ‘off the shelf’ play equipment and custom-built structures and natural play features.

10. Experience it yourself! The best way for adults to prepare and plan for successful natural play is to experience it! Think about natural play activities you would like today’s children doing, and then have a go for yourself.

Water play- Wells next the Sea, Norfolk

Water (and mud) play- Wells next the Sea, Norfolk

Source: after ‘Wild about Play’- Martin Maudsley

Other information:

Love Outdoor play

Nature on the Map

Places for play exhibition

The Forestry Commission and play

Natural play – Londonplay

Playwork Partnerships

The Child in Nature

Outdoor Experiences and Healthier brains

Natural play philosophy and approach

Old School Gardener

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