The shift back to nature play – it’s happening!

Many of you know of my passionate commitment to outside play in our homes, schools and communities.  It is beyond exciting to see the shift back to more outside play opportunities for our precious children across Australia and other parts of the world.

I have visited many primary schools and seen the results of parents, teachers, community members and students all working hard to build fabulous outside adventure spaces. So often I see in their faces deep pride, joy and commitment. There is often a hugely creative component to these projects and frequently they are designed and planned with materials sought from around the local area or donated by businesses and families.

This is where the true magic happens. Using what is already available rather than doing a ‘flat-pack’ or one-size-fits-all nature playground. Slopes, trees, rocks and existing shrubs (that can be trimmed underneath to form tunnels) are what makes the new blend with the old and keeps costs down.

The sense of community ownership in creating nature playgrounds is enormously important. I spoke to a few parents at Kensington Primary School who had been part of a big weekend working bee where an obstacle course was built. They said that they saw the students’ excited reactions on Monday morning and it brought tears to their eyes! To be able to witness the joy and delight on the faces of all the children who belong in that community is also secretly building happy memories and a stronger sense of belonging.

Research is telling us that engaged play outside not only builds healthier bodies, and emotional and social competence, it also helps kids to concentrate better in class.

Kensington is on a street called Banksia Terrace and apparently the whole area was once covered in these trees. Part of the school project is to now replant the trees that were originally on the land – so I loved this respecting of the traditional as well as building of the new. I had a chuckle when one dad told me that they needed some more logs and someone knew an old guy in the area who may like his trees trimmed.

Off they went and the elderly chap was delighted to have two trees removed and cleared away for free! That is community sustainability in perfect flow. The logs from his trees are now re-living in a play space where they will be forever stepped on by future generations of children who also live in the community. Ahhhh so perfect and so simple.

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People contact me all the time and ask me where to start with a nature playground project. I would say the first step is to remember you don’t have to wait until your school can fundraise $60,000 for a play space. You can start by getting some logs, big rocks or a ‘small hill’ pile of dirt or create a pathway and chatting with the kids as well. I especially love the fabulous project done by Booragoon Primary School –  watch their time lapse video of their $1000 nature play project here. They are an inspiration to us all.

Finally I just want to clap loudly and celebrate every school that is bringing back play opportunities of days gone by whether that be climbing trees, running feely on the oval, allowing handstands and cartwheels or creating more natural play spaces with dirt, rocks and wood.

This will help build happier, stronger, kinder, cleverer and more resilient children, which is what every parent wants. So please continue to be part of the positive solution – share photos of new play options, ideas and the change happening (checkout our Nature Play Gallery for inspiration). We need to work collectively to ensure the fear-based image of play for children – which has resulted in playgrounds designed by adults to keep children safe in a very litigious society – is not the norm.

Let’s help teach our children about taking measured risks and what ‘accidents’ look like and how to help each other play together.