When deciding on new locations for our Mud Pies Nature Playgroups we search for simple nature spaces in local neighbourhoods. The ideal location is somewhere close to where families live so they can easily return to the space between our sessions. Somewhere that feels like it envelopes you with protective trees and bushes but also provides a hill or slope. Somewhere that has diversity of life, colour, textures, surfaces and provocations. A place where nature is the focus instead of a prefabricated play structure.
With all this in mind, it is important to remember that children need a diversity of opportunity for play in varied spaces. We love this reflection from one of our staff members about her children’s play preferences…
My boy, Oliver (2.5yo) LOVES playgrounds. I often hear from the back of the car, “Mummy, can we go to that park?” And it’s because he’s seen a shiny, brightly coloured structure rising out of the landscape as we drive along.
However, he also poses similar questions when we drive past some of our favourite natural spaces. “Look Mummy, the Forest! Are the kangaroos in my teepee?”. Whilst the bright shiny playgrounds are easy to spot and look initially very attractive to a two year old, I have observed that my children respond differently in each of these environments. I’ve found that in a traditional playground environment, my children tend to rush in and jump on the first thing that attracts them. Their movements are fast and excitable and they are certainly having fun. They often move from one activity or area of the playground to another quickly and usually don’t spend too much time focused on any one thing (except maybe the swing – Oliver loves the swing). We play make believe games although it is often limited to playing shop keepers or house.
When we explore natural spaces, such as the Pine plantation near our house (aka the Forest), everything seems to slow down. There isn’t any rushing. We walk slowly and quietly and hope we might catch a glimpse of a kangaroo or two. We look down on the ground, or up into the trees, pick up sticks, listen for what sounds we can hear . We look at dew drops on branches and see what creepy crawlies we can find. We look up, under, over and around and we always find some fairies under a log. Our imaginations are endless in this space. No matter how we were feeling upon arrival in this space, I can almost guarantee that after a short time we will be feeling much calmer and more at ease both with ourselves and each
My kids love both structured playgrounds and natural spaces. I have found both bring joy and benefit to my children in different ways. Simply being outside and spending time together in each space is incredibly valuable. However, we treasure the endless exploration, imagination, and experiences – physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually – that being in natural spaces together brings.
Check out this Article from Playgroundology that also discusses such alternative spaces to play.
To find out more about Educated by Nature’s opportunities head to our programs page!