AmeriCorps Notes: The Wonderful World of Nature Play
"Children are born naturalists. They explore the world with all of their senses, experiment in the environment, and communicate their discoveries to those around them."
The Audubon Nature Preschool
As the AmeriCorps Volunteer & Education Associate serving with the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, I’ve had the opportunity to continue expanding my knowledge of Southern Appalachian wildlife, experience the wonders of environmental education and explore the world of natural play! I spoke with Eli Strull, WNC Nature Center Education Staff Member, to dig deeper into nature play, discuss why it’s important and learn how it relates to the Nature Center’s mission.
Spending time outdoors is a great way for people to increase physical activity, build creativity and connect with nature. Nature play is a learning process that promotes such activities and incorporates hands-on engagement in a natural setting. Eli shared his definition, “Nature play refers to spaces and activities that allow children a chance for creative play in natural settings.”
In recent years, children’s time outdoors and in nature has greatly declined. This decline has resulted in negative consequences relating to health, development and even knowledge about nature. Eli revealed the facts, “There is an abundance of research supporting the value of unstructured play and environmental contact on the physical and emotional development of young people. As the amount of time children spend indoors and in front of screens has increased dramatically over the last generation, nature play offers a balance.”
Although nature play is vital for youth development, it isn’t just for kids! Children of all ages and accompanying adults can benefit from natural play. Not only does it build a relationship with nature, exploring the natural world together also helps to build interpersonal relationships. “For parents and caregivers, nature play allows a chance to engage and connect with children. It is important that kids lead the play so adults can also choose to just observe which gives them a chance to relax and recharge,” Eli said.
The incorporation of nature play into businesses and educational facilities is rapidly growing. The Nature Center’s mission is to connect people with Southern Appalachian flora and fauna by inspiring appreciation, nurturing understanding and advancing conservation. By introducing nature play, visitors can continue connecting with the natural world around them. Eli explained further, “Children are natural observers so nature play often includes opportunities to connect with native plants and animals, which is the Center’s mission. It allows for personal experiences with the natural world, which are important to conservation, a central part of what we do.”
The Nature Center is home to a number of Nature Play areas where curious visitors can use their imaginations and problem-solving skills in an outdoor setting. “With a variety of play elements throughout the Center grounds, visitors have a safe, controlled environment to take advantage of the many benefits of nature play,” Eli said. Beyond the Nature Center, people can also explore the outdoors in local nature areas or at home in their own backyard.
As educators, conservationists, parents, guardians and community members, it is our turn to share the wonders of nature play with those around us. Now, go outside, explore the streams, rivers, forests, fields and local parks right down the street. Nature play is right outside our door!
Interested in learning more? https://naturalearning.org/sites/default/files/Nature-Play-Learning-Places_storefront_preview_0.pdf
AmeriCorps Volunteer & Education Associate
Friends of the WNC Nature Center