As part of a uni assignment, I recently researched some of the differences between natural and designated play spaces. Natural spaces offer so many different colours, smells, sounds and textures for children to experience through their senses. Logs, tree stumps, streams, mud, stepping stones, rocks and steep slopes provide opportunities for physical challenge and risk. Natural environments encourage open-ended play, which promotes creativity, imagination and problem-solving.
Research has demonstrated that contact with nature is important for mental and physical health and wellbeing, but children nowadays are much more likely to play in designated play spaces. Of course playgrounds have their advantages too, such as accessibility, convenience and socialising. Getting out into nature can require more effort, but all that is really needed is suitable clothing and time. Unhurried and unstructured time to explore and engage with the natural world.
I’ve always believed in the value and importance of outdoor play, but sometimes I need reminding. I want to make more of an effort to spend time doing nothing in nature. And although there may be grumbles about leaving the house, or a long list of other things that need doing, I know that we never regret spending that time outdoors. We may come back feeling tired and hungry, but we always feel happy and refreshed.