The Benefits of Free Play in Nature

By Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach

Have you ever noticed how freely children play in nature? Nature provides soft edges, new things to explore, and free items to build with. There is plenty of room for inspiration and creativity.

I took this picture one day at the beach. This is a floating raft that boys and girls of different ages built out of driftwood and large ribbon kelp. The kids in this picture didn’t all know each other and various kids came and went throughout the day. Some pushed and some made repairs by replacing pieces of wood. They all learned quickly how many the raft could hold, and exactly where they needed to sit or stand on it, and communicated this to each other by talking or watching.

No adults were needed in either the conceptualizing or carrying out of this project, which involved experimenting with concepts in engineering, physics, social skills and a lot more.

In fact, as I watched the various phases throughout the day, there never seemed to be a sense of ownership of the raft, or more accurately, all kids who came and went seemed to feel they had a right to it. I watched the two siblings who my son said started the project much earlier and they seemed to come and go just like the others. The one time I witnessed a child harming the raft unintentionally, he was corrected by the others. 

More and more, we are finding evidence that being in nature and being allowed to play more often and freely is beneficial for children. As Ken Finch states in his article, A Parent’s Guide to Nature Play,

“School children who use playgrounds with trees, fields, shrubs, and vegetated edges show more creative play, better concentration, and more inter-gender play than peers with equipment-focused playgrounds.”


All children deserve this.

Additionally, play in nature can address sensory needs. One example is how the two children standing on the raft are working hard to balance their bodies. This addresses their proprioceptive needs. Any exercise that requires balance helps to restore a sense of equilibrium to all the senses, and if you have a sensory kid, all the better.

Learning by playing in nature is perfect, and I think, necessary for all children. The experiential and visual-spatial learners are in their element, and the ones who are more comfortable with the linear-sequential become more flexible and creative. For the nature-loving, highly sensitive kids, time in nature is essential. 

As Ken Finch, in his article, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, states,

“There is an old Sanskrit word, Lila (Leela), which means play. Richer than our word, it means divine play, the play of creation and destruction and re-creation, the folding and unfolding of the cosmos. Lila, free and deep, is both delight and enjoyment of this moment, and the play of God. It also means love. Lila may be the simplest thing there is—spontaneous, childish, disarming. But as we grow and experience the complexities of life, it may also be the most difficult and hard-won achievement imaginable, and it’s coming to fruition is a kind of homecoming to our true selves.”


If you observe successful, happy adults, especially those who are in creative fields such as mathematics, music, and the arts, and yes, even business requires creativity, a common skill they have is this ability to be playful. Being playful in work contributes to an individual’s abilities as well as their ability to collaborate and to improvise. Important skills to have.  Additionally, in my experience with highly sensitive and creative adults and children, playfulness can help to address the perfectionism that can otherwise be stifling.

As you know, when we are in joy, we are more likely to learn. Nature often inspires joy and connection. Connection with each other, connection to nature, and connection to ourselves – our true nature. Adults relax. Kids play. This makes the perfect environment for self-led learning. And for being.

 

Teresa Currivan is a mother, licensed marriage and family therapist, school therapist, and CroppedMaxTCcoaches parents by phone at Help My Child Thrive Coaching. Teresa has been published on sites such as Mother.ly, Filter Free Parents, and is a blogger at GHF and Hoagies Gifted Education. She specializes in giftedness, twice exceptionality, educational fit, family dynamics, and gifted adults. She lives in the San Francisco, California Bay Area with her husband and son. You can find more articles on this website. Follow her on Facebook at  fb.me/TeresaCurrivanCoaching.

***If this article resonates with you and you would like to see if Teresa’s coaching would be a good fit for you, email her at TeresaCurrivan@gmail.com and mention this article to schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation. She’d love to hear from you!***

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© 2018 Teresa Currivan

 

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