Children’s Barriers to Nature Play Turn Within- How is the Nature Play QLD Mission Going?

For the Nature Play QLD team, the first three years went by in a flash. With interest and engagement continuing to flood in from so many areas of the community, the Nature Play QLD team remains full of purpose, pride, humility and resolve as we continue to champion our mission to renormalise free outdoor play for Queensland children.

From 2014 to 2017 Nature Play QLD inspired and encouraged hundreds of thousands of Queensland children to participate in hundreds of thousands of hours of free outdoor play, across thousands of natural locations. This is something we are very, very proud of.

So much outdoor play; so much connection with nature; so much joy, fun and excitement; so many bonding moments, positive relationships fostered and strengthened; so many important physical skills honed, challenged and mastered; so much emotional regulation practiced and so much resilience built, grown and strengthened; so much awe, wonder and moments of connection with the environment facilitated; so many brains stimulated, activated, lit-up like Christmas trees with the sensory engagement achieved through outdoor play; so many nature play-related important community conversations have started, deepened, elaborated and been expanded upon; so much awareness generated, focused on the essential need and benefit of playing outdoors in nature, especially in an unstructured manner.

This is what the Nature Play QLD Team has focused on. This is what we have achieved. There is still so much work to do.

What Do Our Children WANT?

During 2016-2017 we have focused on the ‘child-ness’ of the Nature Play QLD message. We have been challenging our thinking around the ‘child-centricity’ of the Nature Play QLD mission and of our communities, with a central question emerging "For children, has nature play become broccoli or is it still ice cream?". Has outdoor play become something children think they must do, because it is good for them, or is it still something they just inherently love and want to do all the time, just because? Is nature play something that parents, carers and educators push upon their kids for health reasons, or is it something that children choose to do of their own free will?

"For children, has nature play become broccoli or is it still ice cream?" Tweet it!

On a meta scale this question has gone unanswered. We don’t know what children think. What do you think? What is happening in your home, neighbourhood or community? How do children feel about outdoor play in your home or area?

What we do know is that if we are going to make a difference in the world of a child, then we need to know what children think and value in relation to their free time and specifically what they think of free outdoor play.

If it is true that there is a growing number of children who don’t want to go outdoors to play, that outdoor play has no value for them, then this creates a new set of challenges for Nature Play QLD, parents, educators, community groups and governments.

What Do Our Children NEED?

Children need free outdoor play as much as they need adequate nutrition. This is especially true in the early years, from birth to 12 years old, in order to set them up with all the right skills, thinking patterns, attitudes, values, beliefs and habits that will support their long, healthy and happy lives.

The challenge then becomes ‘how do we, as adults, get children interested in outdoor play at an intrinsic level?’ I believe the answer requires all adults to skillfully, meaningfully and purposely to do less for our children.

‘Skillfully, meaningfully and purposely doing less' means that our roles as adults is to give our children more opportunities to be the directors or their outdoor play, thus creating more time for themselves, without us. The role of the adults will be to focus on reducing barriers, building our children’s confidence and competence in outdoor play, letting kids take risks, letting them roam further as their interest grows, linking them with other local kids who they can independently connect and play with at any given time, and familiarising children with their local green spaces where they can explore, discover and hone their love of outdoor play.

Less is More!

What I also mean by ‘doing less’, is to reduce the time spent on screens, reduce time in regular extra-curricular activities, on homework.

If our kids are going to develop a healthy love for outdoor play they need more time in this activity. There are only so many hours in a day. Guard and protect these hours as precious moments to inspire independent free outdoor play. Time spent indoors with screens during the day, is time spent away from outdoor play. With this in mind, perhaps it is useful to save screen time as an after-dark activity or for special occasions. Also limiting the amount of regular extracurricular activities we get our kids involved in, to allow for free time. Reducing the amount of time spent on homework and educational outcomes will also allow more space for freedom of choice, self-discovery, self-direction and self-determination. 

Don’t stop all extra activities, homework and screen time; just do less and give more priority to freedom, fun, friends and challenge. By building the 'localness' of your child’s ‘play-world’ you will watch their love for free outdoor play grow from within.

Last Piece Of Advice...

My last piece of advice, to support your child developing a love for outdoor play, is to be thoughtfully involved, and recognise when children are needing their autonomy. This will help them to develop their internal drive and motivation towards outdoor play. I suggest developing a skilled awareness of knowing when to step out of the play scenarios and let your children take over. Your rewards will be the joy in their being, knowing you made this happen.

Nature Play QLD has built momentum and action towards revitalising Queensland neighbourhoods and communities as the most important outdoor play resource for our children, not just places for cars and fences. 

Hyahno Moser is the Program Manager at Nature Play QLD. Like most children of his generation, Hyahno spent most of his leisure time outside, therefore it came as no surprise to his family when he choose a career in Outdoor Education. For 10 years, Hyahno was involved in devising, facilitating, teaching and leading young people through world-class, outdoor education programs, using adventure and nature to teach children vital life-skills. Hyahno is passionate about nature play and believes the Nature Play program is a positive and practical way to ensure children participate in unstructured play in nature, delivering the myriad of benefits this type of play offers their physical and emotional health.

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