Activities in backyards and beyond

Being outdoors with nature: Everyday experiences with children 

What are your favourite childhood play memories? Chances are they were outdoors! Many adults fondly recall a secret cubby, a gnarled climbing tree or potentially risky situations away from the watchful eye of adults.

Reflect on what you learnt outdoors, skills and dispositions such as curiosity, resilience, negotiation, risk management, problem-solving, the list goes on… This was most often socially shared learning with others, both older and younger, adding to the learning potential as you navigated the natural world together. 

Many authors and researchers have questioned what is perhaps missing for the current generation of children who are often hurried into organised activities, spend long hours in screen-based pursuits and when outdoors, adults hover awaiting disaster. Also, from a health and well-being perspective concerns are increasingly raised about childhood obesity, mental health and declining physical skills such as balance and core strength.

Over a decade ago Moore and Cooper lamented the disappearance of ‘free range childhood’, and suggested ‘the cure for the lifestyle maladies of contemporary childhood seems glaringly obvious and simple: outdoor play in nature’ (2008, p. 160).

Nature play initiatives have been increasing in recent years internationally and locally, you may have heard of nature playgroups, forest preschools or possibly the nature playspace established at Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre near Armidale in 2017 and now part of the educational programs.

So, how does nature play and COVID-19 connect? The current isolation measures have the potential to exacerbate the concerns noted above, so it is time for all children to play in nature everyday wherever feasible. We can practise the necessary measures, but also enjoy playing and learning outdoors in local parks, bushland, nature strips or the backyard. 

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