The Leading Edge of Nature Play: Reflections on Nature Play QLD’s 2.5 years

Nature Play QLD has completed its second year, and operational plans for our third year are being implemented.

In reflection, this year has been not only about championing our existing increase in the amount of time our kids spend outdoors playing, it has also been about starting new conversations, addressing the most significant barriers for outdoor play.


The Community Conversations We Have Had To Have

Important conversations such as reclaiming the neighbourhood and recognising the local community as the most important outdoor play resource we can give our children. Other conversations include the role of education in promoting and increasing outdoor play and the developmental benefits of starting the outdoor play journey from a new born.

Starting or increasing the volume on the importance of these nature play conversations will significantly increase the health and wellbeing outcomes for our children immediately and into the future.


Dutiful Action Of Nature Play QLD

Our Nature Play QLD team feel that we have a duty to be leading these conversations in the community. We have done this through forums, symposiums, creating new and relevant outdoor play resources, forming new partnerships and growing the urgency. 

What has become abundantly clear during this year of operation, is that the families, carers and professionals, who have responsibilities to the Queensland children they support, are recognising outdoor play as a fundamental aspect of a full and healthy childhood. However, what is also becoming abundantly clear is that while the level of widespread community concern is extremely high, the ability to act is fraught with issues, barriers, and complexities.


Modern Nature Play Barriers for Parent and Child

While it seems simple, just send your child outdoors to play, for the adult and most importantly for the child, this simple activity has become anything but simple.

Children are now faced with the most important question if deciding to go outside and play: WHY? For children their leisure activities are centred on the need to connect with other children, to make sense of their worlds/ communities/ lives, to build their skills and competencies as they see important, to progress, but most importantly to have fun. What fun waits for the child who goes outside to play today? What will this child see and experience, and for this child what will these experiences ultimately result in, in relation to their forming values, attitudes and opinions towards outdoor play, for their community and neighbourhoods?

Most neighbourhood streets are devoid of children, devoid of activity, devoid of play spaces, filled with racing vehicles and paranoid parents and other adults. Fear spilling out of the homes onto footpaths, into the street. Fear based mostly on the unknown, not knowing those who we live amongst, a fear that perpetuates isolation and more fear. The safest and easiest action of parents and carers is to put up fences both literally and metaphorically. Fences as barriers, fences as values and attitudes in the hearts of our children.

This is the view for the child of their outdoor play areas, from within their house, out of their car windows, from indoors. No direct experience.


Changing Play Priorities Of Children / Rise In Parental Feelings Of Helplessness

The obvious but unintended results, as we are now discovering, is that there is now a growing trend, an alarming trend, that lots of children are not interested and don’t want to go outdoors to play. In a majority of modern children’s minds ‘outdoors’ has little to no value to them as a play resource.

While talking to many parents, carers and childhood professionals who have their own children, who totally understand the benefits and necessity of outdoor play, many cannot get their children interested in this activity. These adults are frustrated, fearful and worried for their children’s wellbeing. While their children become further immersed in sedentary lifestyles, their health-risk factors increase.

There I am hearing a tone of helplessness in parents and carers, left with this poignant and pivotal question: How do I get my child interested in outdoor play, because their health and wellbeing depends on it, their lives depend on it?


Structured Activities Are A Short-Term Solution

Structured activities definitely provide an immediate short-term solution, but the cost and time requirements associated with these activities are not available to all.

However to add insult to injury, research is showing the long-term effects of over structuring childhood results in adults who have a significantly reduced ability to independently govern themselves in many areas of their lives.

And for those adults, parents, carers who don’t have the capacity to provide an appropriate amount of structured activities to support the immediate physical activity needs of a healthy childhood, what options are left? Screens, internet, gaming, social media, online forums?


Outdoor Childhoods Are Still Possible

There are still communities who manage to maintain outdoor play communities. Where children’s degree of freedom is much higher, where laughter, fun, adventure, imaginations are exercised as much as the children’s physical bodies.

We have learnt that these communities are formed only when champions take the initiative, willing to make an effort to break down barriers with neighbours, open communication lines, and connect their children. Taking an active role in their neighbourhoods.

We have also learnt that outdoor play communities mostly arise when the external barriers are fewer, when the neighbourhoods lend themselves to easy supervision, when communities feel safe, where no significant incidents have occurred, where the crime is low, where the traffic is low or controlled, when there are less neurotic people making decisions, where populations are small and the unknown factors are reduced to an acceptable risk.


More Than Adventure Awaits The Child Who Ventures Outdoors To Play

For these children within these outdoor play communities, as the research shows, this high degree of unstructured freedom and activity will result in higher levels of planning, initiative, passion, resilience, care, concern, social skills, motivation, zest for life, community mindedness, organisation, creativity, problem solving, lateral thinking, risk assessment, risk management, self-assuredness, positive self-concept, independence, healthier relationships and healthier eating choices.

Nature play is shaping up to be the edge for tomorrow’s leaders.

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