“It’s such a nice day! Let’s get the kids outside. Do something fun as a family. But what?”

Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan—authors of “Nature Play Workshop for Families”—say the average child spends just 4 to 7 minutes a day outside and misses out on the opportunity to interact and learn from nature.

They encourage cultivating “nature play,” which they define as the freedom for children to explore and play in nature at their whim and in their own way, without adult interference.

“Children are empowered when they can freely choose how and what to do during nature play,” the outdoor teachers write. “The sensory-rich encounters in nature are curious or strange sometimes, other times exhilarating and unexpected.

The intensity of play, the creative scenarios children dream up and the moments of quiet discovery are enriched by natural materials and settings that can never be replicated or fully experienced indoors.”

Rather than a fixed place or thing, the authors say nature is more aptly described as “us.”

“Nature is not a place we must drive far away to visit,” they write. “Nature is everywhere, and we are a part of it.”

Time spent in nature—and specifically nature play—helps reinforce what it means to be alive, in and of the earth.

“The word ‘play’ describes the urges, instincts and interests children naturally have when given the freedom to make their own choices.” they write, noting play is a universal passion of children and the basis for cognitive, social, emotional, physical, spiritual and linguistic learning.

With no instructions or narration from adults, children exhibit independence, curiosity, problem solving, creativity, resilience and fun when at play.

“Children instinctively know how to play and have ideas about what they would like to explore or try to do in any given setting,” the authors state.

Nature play stirs a deep desire to connect with other living things—no matter how small—and to the land and its history, the complexities of the local ecosystem and its natural resources, the community, and others who explore and play together, the authors explain.

“Leaf by leaf, children grow their own personal understanding about what it means to be part of nature,” they write. “Compassion, empathy, kindness and respect flourish as we live out the interconnectedness of this place we call home.”

Excerpted from “Nature Play Workshop for Families” © 2020 by Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Quarry Books, an imprint of The Quarto Group, Beverly, Massachusetts.

Key Benefits of Nature Play

The authors of “Nature Play Workshop for Families” list the following positives that come from children interacting with nature:

  • Fresh air.
  • Exposure to vitamin D from sunshine.
  • Exposure to naturally occurring bacteria in soil.
  • Improved fine and gross motor development from active physical-play opportunities.
  • Understanding of healthy foods and nutritional needs (foraging and edible gardening).
  • Healthy eye development.
  • Supported risk taking.
  • Improved cognition (higher-order thinking and executive functioning skills).
  • Space and time to observe, experiment and problem-solve.
  • Direct real-world links to curriculum.
  • Stress reduction and calming effects.
  • Opportunities to feel and express empathy, compassion, kindness, respect and gratitude.
  • Appreciation for the land, its history and indigenous cultures.
  • The chance to self-reflect and gain perspective.
  • Spirituality, a sense of belonging and connectedness.
  • Opportunities to experience, process and integrate sensory input.
  • Social and independent play that fosters determination, grit, perseverance and self-confidence.
  • Desire to act positively as caretakers who share the natural world and its resources.