Unstructured outdoor nature play is a critical foundation of early childhood, from babies to younger children, to develop lifelong health, cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing. Nature play is fundamental to expanding children’s natural wonder, imagination and curiosity to embed a lifelong interest in investigating and discovering their natural world. All learning outcomes can be creatively catered to by providing nature play opportunities to suit individual ages and stages of development.
Unstructured outdoor play has holistic benefits for children and those connected to them: it develops the whole child – physically and mentally. Providing a variety of nature play experiences expands children’s sensory capabilities and improves vestibular sense for development of movement - balance, spatial orientation, head position, eye control and coordination.
Nature play also develops children’s resilience, creativity and positive connections with their environment and community as a valuable foundation for babies and young children to be capable of making sense of their world. It also provides opportunities for adults to interact with children in a relaxed environment and to develop trusting relationships, which is so important in the early years for effective social and emotional wellbeing, learning and a sense of belonging to the community. All ages, cultures and abilities can engage with nature to make sense of their world.
To help you bring nature into your early years classroom or childcare centre, check out these two fantastic resources from the Back to Nature Network in Ontario, Canada :
This fantastic tool will help early years educators to provide opportunities for children to connect with nature on a regular basis. It contains a large number of easy-to-use prompts - divided into weather conditions (cool, sunny, rainy, etc) - that can be applied with simple preparation and minimal materials. The ideas it contains will enable early learning and care educators to include exploration of nature as part of outdoor play and to provide opportunities for children to build strong connections with the natural world.
The Back to Nature Network teacher’s guide, Into Nature, is a unique tool that includes logistics, resources and learning experiences for teaching in nature for years K - 8. While all learning experiences are linked to the Ontario, Canada curriculum, the ideas it contains can be adapted to suit the Australian curriculum, including: Nature 101, a series of five phases to move from the indoor classroom to the outdoor learning space; fifty Nature2Go activities; and full lessons that last one class period or more.