How are children going to care about the environment and look after our planet if they spend a decreasing amount of time connecting to nature?


Brooke Davis

There is a growing body of research that backs up these observations and clearly demonstrates the benefits of being outdoors in nature. Research demonstrates that unstructured, outdoor play in nature is fundamental to childhood and that it is as important to children as food and sleep.

Children improve their levels of physical activity when they spend time outdoors and in nature. Physical health can also influence a child’s ability to learn. For children, the sense of freedom experienced during the unstructured play that occurs in nature creates a source of independence and inner strength that can be drawn on during stressful situations throughout life.

As children, observe, reflect, record and share nature’s patterns and rhythms they are participating in processes that promote the foundations for STEM thinking, problem solving, environmental awareness and creativity.

Nature provides an environment of high engagement. Boosting this connection with, and understanding of, nature will help our children, the next generation of leaders and decision makers respond more knowledgeable to environmental challenges.

There are so many reasons that we should encourage children to get outdoors and play. Research shows that nature play is essential to children’s wellbeing and development and is FUN.

Nature provides an environment for children to learn in an unstructured way and offers possibilities for:

  • Developing an environmental identity and responsibility

  • Control, mastery and manipulation of loose parts and construction of natural spaces

  • Diverse ways of moving which improves  physical strength, coordination and balance

  • Risk taking which supports children to develop responsible attitudes towards risk due to having experiences dealing with adventurous situations

  • Problem solving is developed through opportunities for decision making and creative thinking because outdoor spaces are often more varied and less structured

  • Tackling new challenges through having a go, persistence and perseverance

  • Playing outside is often open ended and children learn to be creative and imaginative about what and how they play

  • Socialisation is fostered through play promoting turn taking, cooperation, communication, sharing, empathising, negotiation and leadership

  • Instilling a sense of wonder and stimulating imagination and symbolic play

  • Supporting a child’s sense of self and recognising independence, interdependence and connectedness with their world

  • Mastering new skills, improving their competence and confidence in their physical and social abilities

  • Developing a relationship with their environment and special outdoor spaces

  • Managing physical and social challenges helps children learn to keep themselves safe

  • Developing a sense of connection and belonging to place, to peers and to their local community and environment.

Many of these benefits are completely transferable to adults as well.

Try it and you just might like it :)

The words on this page were written by the wonderful Sally Cook from Natural Connections for Learning. Sally has more than 40 years experience in education, nature play and pedagogy and has supported Wild Imagination since its infancy. We have so much gratitude to you Sally for your ongoing support.