As we prepare for the winter holidays, I would like to share a recent ‘Nature Play’ insight my kids recently taught me, as well as challenge you to do ‘less’ this holidays to give your kids the gift of unstructured outdoor play.
Winter is upon us. It’s a time to reflect on nature’s cycles and ability to rejuvenate. The days get shorter, the moon gets bigger, the wind picks up, and the rain is falling.
My kids and the kids in my neighbourhood are still playing in puddles despite the drop in temperature and worrying parents. They seem a little more desperate in their play lately – with the sun going down earlier, there’s less time for outdoor play together. They are running from task to task, from idea to idea. Cramming as much nature play as they can into the daylight hours.
These kids recently inherited two 5m long gym mats, on which they have been practicing all sorts of movement and gymnastics. During the recent rain, I came home from work to find the kids had dragged the mats outdoors, linked together, length-ways, and had created a new slip-n-slide. By the time I got home they had already mastered it and were sliding off the end of the mats across the grass, with grace and confidence. Having an absolute blast. Constantly moving, constantly getting better with each slide, finding new and more creative ways to engage with mats, the rain, the grass and each other.
As the sun went down, the shivering started and the kids came in looking to warm-up, requesting warm showers.
As a parent, I take so much stock in the important internal development that is occurring for these kids in these moments: physical fluency and healthy activity; social cohesion and relationship maintenance; building their connections with nature by playfully sliding across it. It’s awesome.
For me, the most important thing going on this scenario is what is happening inside these children’s brains. They are developing a strong internal love for outdoor play. It’s so strong and powerful that no other option will coerce them away from their super healthy play choice, not even the seasonal changes. As masters and directors of their own play, they’re fully responsible for enjoyment, adventures and fun. In fact, these kids are building and strengthening their ‘executive functioning’ parts of their brains. Executive function is a group of neural pathways in the brain. Strong and healthy executive function is associated with overall success and happiness in later life (Source: Jane e Barker etal, 2014).
Nature play is literally laying strong neural foundations that will support them through life.
Now that is a fantastic demonstration of the power of outdoor play.
So this winter school holidays, ‘less is more’. And that’s good news for parents; the power of unstructured outdoor play also gives us license put our feet up for a while this winter and let the kids take charge. We can relax for a while and reflect on all the incredible development that is happening for our children as a result.
Nature Play QLD
Barker, Jane E.; Semenov, Andrei D.; Michaelson, Laura; Provan, Lindsay S.; Snyder, Hannah R.; and Munakata, Yuko, "Less- Structured Time in Children's Daily Lives Predicts Self-Directed Executive Functioning" (2014). University Libraries Open Access Fund Supported Publications. 7.