Tonight I am going to be one of the ‘local champions’ on a panel at the Nature Play QLD Community Forum in Cairns regarding ‘Reviving Neighbourhood Nature Play’. I was planning on attending this forum anyway, but was thrilled/ a little terrified when Nature Play QLD contacted us and asked if I would mind being involved with the discussion as a panelist. I thought I’d write a post today as I am doing a little bit of homework via google searching on the internet, before the forum tonight.
We absolutely believe nature play/outdoor play is very important for our kids, it is one of the biggest reasons we love camping and ‘unplugging’ so much! As well as being one of the major reasons our family is so heavily involved with the scouting movement.
We love the health benefits of running around outside, the fresh air, the sunshine and sometimes, (we live in Mareeba – 360 sunny days a year remember) a chance to splash in the rain. We believe playing in the dirt and mud is good for the kids’ immune systems and absolutely puts them in a better mood then playing their devices does! Outdoor play teaches kids the basics of independent decision making and learning how to take calculated risks for their own safety – ‘ie if I climb this tree, will I fall out or will I be ok?’.
However, I certainly don’t think we are ‘nature play’ experts by any means – in fact – I feel a little bit embarrassed to be sitting up on a panel in front of many other people tonight who are probably far more qualified than our family! We still have the same struggles as lots of others, as we try to balance our kids (and ours) desire for and enjoyment of technology (yes – they LOVE minecraft and YouTube!) with the need for them to get outside and have some unstructured play too!
The decision we made at the beginning of last year to have no ‘tech time’ (no TV, computers, ipods, ipads etc) during the week (Mon – Fri) has absolutely assisted with getting a bit more balance in our family’s lives. Something interesting we have found with our young children though, is that we really need to lead the way in outside play. This doesn’t mean we need to sit down and play with the sticks and dirt too (although Matt has done this on occasion), but it simply means we have to get outside too! I read this post from Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) recently which discussed how to encourage creativity in children. It really resonated with me and I absolutely think the same principles apply to outdoor/nature play. I’m going to directly quote Elizabeth here so you can read it too and see what I am talking about;
“So when people ask me, “How can we encourage creativity in children?”, my answer is: “By encouraging creativity in ADULTS.”
Because that’s who children learn from: Adults.
Do you want your kids to be creative people? SHOW THEM WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE. Go create something, and let them watch you roll. Take risks, right in front of their eyes. Drag them along on your weird follies as confused passengers.
Don’t tell them about creativity; show them about creativity. Go be a wildly audacious, creative, and free person yourself — and then they will believe that they can be wildly audacious, creative, and free someday, too.
Do your thing. Do your own thing — your biggest and boldest and strangest own thing — and your children will follow. Your children will have no choice but to follow. As a wise mother (an actually qualified person) once told me: “Children will never listen to what their parents say…but they can’t help imitating how their parents ARE.’
In conclusion: Become what you want your children to someday become, and they will have far more luck becoming it themselves.”
I think that is a terrific way to encourage getting our kids outdoors more. We adults and parents need to lead the way and our children will follow! Show them how to play outside – maybe that is building a garden (vege, fairy, flower) together, or taking a walk around a local park or nature reserve, maybe even doing a homemade exercise circuit outside. Go birdwatching, or swimming in a local swimming hole together. Go camping. It can even be something as simple as hanging the washing on the line, or doing some outside chores like mowing, or painting and building, which then kickstarts the outside play. Inviting friends over to play, or other families to go away camping or on an outing is fun too, and builds the ‘community’ side of encouraging us all to get outdoors.
As I said – we’re not perfect at this, but we do consciously try to make outdoor play a priority, and it is good for us adults too!
If you have time, I’d love to hear some other people’s thoughts on how we can encourage community nature play?? Do you think it is important? What do you do in your family to get kids outside? Help a girl out here, its an interesting and very important topic!