Nature Play

Nature Play

Historically, children spent most of their time outdoors and previous generations would remember having a freedom to making bike tracks in the bush and catch tadpoles in creeks. There has been a profound shift in more recent times that has seen many children gravitate indoors, due to various reasons. Many parents and educators alike would confidently argue that perceived safety concerns and a greater exposure to technological devices would contribute to the decline in children’s engagement with the outdoors.

Nowadays, we are all aware that the decrease of children’s capacity to be free to play in nature can have implications for both children’s mental and physical health. Promoting play in the outdoor environment not only sees an improvement in children’s overall well-being, but also offers vast opportunities for learning.

Embracing the great outdoors allows children to engage with their senses as they touch, smell, see, hear and taste a whole plethora of natural wonders. The environment provides opportunities for children to be surrounded with the marvels that the landscape offers and invites children to be spontaneous, make discoveries, take risks, engage in social interactions and form a connection with nature.

Parents and educators can utilise this as a basis for learning by thoughtfully responding to children’s observations to expand on their existing knowledge and skills.  Scaffolding their learning as they build and test their own theories by asking open-ended questions and hypothesising alongside them, encourages children to research their ideas further.  

Observing changes in plants as they grow, the appearance of a rainbow and the movements of insects excite and delight young children as they start to make sense of the world around them. However, encouraging children to focus on making observations with their full range of senses expands their capacity to be fully engrossed in nature and in turn amplifies their experiences and potential for learning.

Investigating both living and non-living things can be explored through science-based experiences that focus on process skills such as observing (with all the senses), classifying, researching, measuring and recording. Developing these skills enrich children’s learning and creates potential to integrate other learning areas. Children can engage with visual arts, music, stories, role play, cooking and construction as they lend themselves to creative sensory experiences, derived from nature.

Opportunities for learning are enhanced by offering resources and provocations for children to gain clarity, build upon existing experiences and to extend upon their current theories. Providing children with a combination of natural and man-made resources will provoke a richer understanding and encourage learning dispositions such as curiosity, commitment, enthusiasm and persistence to drive investigations and challenge theories.

Valuing the benefits that nature has to offer children ensures that they have the time, freedom and resources to be creative and learn through the pleasure of play.


Buchan, N. (2015). Children in wild nature: A practical guide to nature-based practice. Victoria, Australia: Teaching Solutions.


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