The following is a guest post by Vanessa Brown of I Never Grew Up.
Unstructured playtime in nature – it seems like such a fancy term for simply letting the kids run wild outside, doesn’t it? Unstructured playtime in nature is basically letting your children experience nature without any requirements, to-do lists or agendas, either alone or with others.
It results in wonderful benefits: memories, strengthened family relationships, independence, self confidence, increased creativity and appreciation and love for the Earth.
Also, just think of all the important poets, leaders, scientists, environmentalists and ecologists we will need for the next generation!
Many studies have been done on the benefit of unstructured playtime in nature and how problems are caused when it is not provided. There have been beautiful books written on the subject. Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv should be required reading for everyone that has a job or relationship with children.
How Can I Get My Kids to Do This?
You would think that this unstructured playtime in nature wouldn’t need any prompting or help, right? Well, you know, us adults sometimes do need help!
Children that are usually quite busy and used to structured playtime might be a bit confused when asked to simply go into nature with no agenda. They might come running back saying, “Mom, this is boring.” But stick with it. They’ll get used to it and learn to love it.
Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling. This is just a bit of guidance that can help spark their imaginations:
- Simply tell your children to grab their favorite book or magazine and go sit under their favorite tree. They might then notice little critters or the shapes of clouds or the signs of a new season.
- Give them an art pad and coloring pencils and tell them they could draw something they see outdoors: the shape of the bare trees or the birds they see in the sky.
- Invite friends to play. Your kids usually will be less likely to complain about being bored if they have friends around, and the kids can feed off each other’s imaginations. Just a simple prompt to go build a fairy house with nature supplies or to go find tracks of animals is great. When they get out there, they might come up with their own idea. Be sure to let them.
- Meet new people. A couple years ago I actually started “Nature Days” in my area and invited people by posting it on my blog. We went to different locations to let our children explore nature.
- Don’t forget you can explore nature AROUND you! After all, its wonderful for children to find their own “special spot” in nature where they can go and feel calm, be alone or do their homework. And they need that place close by. Be sure to first explore the nature around your home.
Photo by Vanessa Brown
In his book, Richard Louv gave this wonderful insight that is one of my favorite quotes,
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist. These will be their turtle tales.”
I love that. Some of my most cherished moments DO revolve around nature. I loved going on an adventure in the woods with my dad to find a new fishing spot. I remember walking along the rocks with my sisters at Chesapeake Bay. They are memories that I pull out when I need extra strength or happiness.
We must make sure our children get these wonderful experiences and memories as well.
What do you do as a family or with friends in nature? What do you do to help guide your children to build a relationship with nature? Any tips of your own?