Once upon a time kids use to play outside all day. Most played in risky environments without adult supervision. Climbing trees, damming creeks, tea parties under skies, catching lizards and throwing Prickly paddymelon at each other. This is nature play. Kids fell from trees, got chased by dogs, fell into creeks and rode bikes without helmets, yet somehow the population feels the olden days were safer than now. These days kids are safely locked up inside with iPads, TVs and computer games. When asked what their favourite pastime is most kids will name activities that revolve around screens. When asked what they would like to do if they could, most answer, riding bikes, skateboarding, visiting friends, or doing stuff with their parents. Their favourite pastime is nothing more than the top choice of what is available to them, yet what interest them are activities that are normally not available. Why aren’t these choices available? Because they are outside away from home.
The safe '0lden days'
Children seek challenges and most backyards are not normally challenging environments. Computer games are challenging and that is why most kids are drawn to them, however, given the opportunity lots of kids will seek risky challenging behaviours in the wild. Climbing a gum tree and trying to build a tree house are very challenging activities. When you master a tree, you don’t stop tree climbing, you find a harder tree to climb. Once you master how to build a great cubby, you don’t retire from cubby building, you create double story cubbies or tree houses. When you master a climbing frame at the local playground, the challenge is over and that playground becomes boring. Why don’t more children play in nature environments? Parental time constraints, lack of natural environments, the Bogeymen.
· Parental time constraints are a real issue. Parents work longer hours than ever before and quality time with the children is always hard to find. Nature play should be seen as an investment in the child’s health and future and as such shifting priorities to support nature play may be easier.
· Lack of natural environments can be an issue, however with a keen eye nature can be found in some surprising places. Roadside verges can offer a plethora of natural experiences, sports ovals are sometimes lined with trees, and an empty block with overgrown weeds can support a wonderland of bugs and reptiles. It doesn’t always have to be an old growth forest.
· The bogeyman lives outside. Snakes, cars, strangers and bullies all lurk in the places where kids love to play. Trees lose limbs, creeks drown people and the sun gives you cancer. The media plays a big part in convincing the population that we live in dangerous times. However, the biggest threat to children in Australia is obesity and the health issues surrounding it. The chances of causing harm to your children by allowing them to continue a screen based sedentary lifestyle outweigh the risk associated with nature play, and statistics back that up. It is time to de-criminalise nature.
Simple and not so simple nature play ideas
· Splash in a rain puddle
· Catch slaters
· Plant things
· Look at clouds
· Roll down a hill.
· Look for Huntsmen’s under gum tree bark. (be careful because they are big and scary)
· Look for lizards
· Climb a tree
· Build a cubby using sticks and ‘rubbish’
· Turn rocks into muddy slime and then throw it at something
· Set a trap to catch wolves using sticks
· Dig a hole and hide in it
· Find your favourite tree in your neighbourhood, pull off a slab of bark and stick it to your bedroom wall.