Children are very excited about going out into nature because it gives them freedom, motivation to explore, breadth in every sense. In their early years have magical thinking (Sobel) and this period is important for creating a connection between themselves and nature. There is a period in which these adventures are experienced through outdoor activities. Staying in nature is an incredible sensory stimulation for everyone. There are three types of contact experiences in nature: direct, indirect, and vicarious or symbolic. Each of these types of contact is important for children to develop environmental awareness, but direct experience is paramount for exploring the natural elements of childhood. Direct experiences are physical contact with the environment in nature. This includes playing in the park, in a wooded area, etc. Indirect experiences involve physical contact and a more focused context. Vicarious or symbolic experience is any experience that has no physical contact, for example through the media. (Kellert)
The activities through which the subject moves, manipulates it, change its shape, allows the child to develop creativity. It is important to recognize the importance of play and the benefits that outdoor play has for the health and development of children. Nature activities that allow children to explore and get to know the world in it: climbing trees, camping, collecting natural objects-plants, playing with mud, observing wildlife …
Nature Play Activities:
Fun in the mud (just after rain or tomorrow day). Take your child to a park or yard and let him or her play with the mud the way he wants. You can give him various cookie cutters, and some toys to create a game of his own. If there is no mud, make it with water. Make sure your children bring an extra pair of clothing and if it rains: raincoat and gumboots.
“The story in the Clouds” (choose a day with nice clouds) Find beautiful grass, part of the beach or riverbank with good views of the sky. Invite the children to look at the sky while sitting or lying down. Share what you see. is there any shape that resembles an animal? Ship? You can see different things in the same cloud. Try telling the story by looking at the clouds. Let’s call it ” Story in the Clouds”.
Picnic (outside or inside) Go out to your yard, park, or beach, and bring blankets and food to share. As a conscious, adult, check the environment in which the child will reside. Remove dangerous objects and obstacles that may cause injury to the child. Then let the children play freely, exploring, looking for sticks, building dice, climbing rocks. With your supervision, allow your children to wander freely and gain the confidence to find you when you need them. After the game, you all sit down and share your food and talk about current child topics.
Bug Hunt. Kids can bring magnifiers or binoculars if they have them. Go bug hunting and try to find insects, bugs. Look under the collapsed branches, stones, on and around the tree canopy. Watch their movements. What are they doing? Are they alone or moving and working in groups? The children write down or draw what they notice on their paper and share with the group when they return from research.
Treasure Hunting in Nature. Explore your local park, forest, beach, or natural area where you want to look for treasure first and note some features. The tallest trees with leaves, beneath rocks, unusual rocks, watery small shallow areas, confuses … Make a list for the children to follow with instructions on what to do at each stop. For example:
1. Look for the highest tree and find the most special leaf below.
2. Look for a big rock. When the train of ants follows, where does it lead?
3. Find a small bar. How many bars can you count? Etc. When they come back, you can do a piece of art with leaves, etc. What they found, sharing stories about what you saw, or drawing about what you saw.
Nature Art. Go out to a local nature area and let kids collect little wonders of nature (anything they find on the ground, encourage them not to pick or tear off living plants and trees or bring living creatures). If there is no option to go out together, you can bring in twigs, leaves, pebbles, etc. yourself beforehand. Talk about the various things they or you have encountered, what they feel/look like, what is their function, how they fall etc. Encourage kids to create a piece of art/story with them, either by themselves or one altogether. This is a very interesting, imaginative nature play activities.
Camping. Out Pitch a tent in your backyard and have a sleepover with a couple of friends. Eat outside your camp. Look at the stars at night. What sounds can you hear? Maybe you can even make a campfire if it’s not too dry and there is an adult present.
Explorer’s map. Find a place (nature play activities) where children can explore freely, either alone or with their parent or carer (depending on age and terrain). Invite children to explore the area and draw a map so that they can always find their way. Invite the children to sit down and discuss the map of the area they have explored. Are there any key locations or things included in their map, and why? If the child has finished the map, go on a walk together and let the children share and explain what they see around them.
Natural Construction offers children natural and manufactured materials such as logs, branches, rope, and bamboo for building forts or other “creations” large and small. These materials can provide hours of engrossing activity for long play sequences, day after day. The only limit to the many variations of forts, cubbies, clubhouses, hideouts, and dens is children’s imaginations.
Water play is highly interactive, multisensory, and universally loved. Toddlers love to transport water from one place to another. Buckets, cups, and containers allow young children to “water” plants (and themselves) over and over. Repetitive actions reinforce skills and bring children great enjoyment.
Grass Labyrinth contains tall, hardy ornamental grasses spaced far enough apart to create the feeling of a maze, enveloping children and stimulating movement through a circuit that triggers curiosity and invites exploration of ever-changing pathways.
Risk-taking is still essential in helping children to build problem-solving skills and competency to better prepare for life’s challenges. Children need to explore and discover at their own pace. To learn, they must constantly push the limits of their own experience – in balance with changing stages of maturity. Particularly in the early years, supervision is essential to ensure that activities do not move beyond healthy risk-taking, which in itself is a positive aspect of outdoor play and yard management. Parents can stimulate curiosity, encourage exploration, and respond to questions but at the same time take care not to disrupt sequences of intense, playful discovery.
Young Children and Nature: Outdoor Play and Development, Experiences Fostering Environmental Consciousness, And the Implications on Playground Design, Ashley Parsons.
8 Simple Nature Play Activities, Nature Play Week
Nature Play at Home, A Guide for Boosting Your Children’s Healthy Development and Creativity, National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative