We asked Chelsey Bahe — best known as natureplaynanny — to write us a blog for The Wild Network. Here she talks of her wild approach to childcare and why she thinks children should be given the time to wonder, take risks and to take charge of their own playtime.
The last four years of my nanny career have been an incredible journey. I've gone from working several years for families who have very scheduled, structured, sanitized, and academically focused expectations, to working for a wonderful family that allows me to use a more play focused, child directed, and wild approach.
My career as a nanny gives me a unique opportunity to have an impact on the children in my care. The parents still have the ultimate say in what we do, but I have 52+ hours a week to help shape the children’s lives. In my current position I am fortunate to be able to foster their innate love of nature.
I am a huge advocate for child directed play. All day long, kids have someone else telling them what to do and when to do it. Play is one time when children get to be in charge. In play, they are free to think, act, and do as they wish. It's a time for them to take risks and try new things.
Childhood only happens once. I believe childhood should be a time of wonder. It should be a time to explore, experiment, and discover. Most of all, it should be full of play.
There is no better setting to support exploration, experimentation, discovery and play than the outdoors.
Bringing children in to nature just feels right to me. We don't need to have a bunch of silly rules when we play outside. We do have a couple rules regarding safety and respect for the place we are playing, but we are free when we are outside.
My own childhood was filled with hours spent playing outside. I enjoyed several years of summer camps, family camping trips, and weeks spent at a friend's cabin, without my parents. This time outside, away from my parents, allowed me to develop a sense of independence, and gave me the opportunity to make my own decisions. These positive childhood nature experiences have had a big influence on my child care philosophy.
Outdoor play is a daily priority for us. We play outside in all types of weather, except of course when there is lightning or other serious risk to safety. We've seen rain, wind, bitter cold, sweltering heat, falling snow, perfect blue sky sunshine, clouds, and everything in between. When weather conditions are less than ideal, such as extreme heat or cold, our time outside might be cut short, but we still get out there.
I was worried at first that I didn’t know enough about the natural world to be able to pass it on to the children. As time has passed I have realized that I don’t need to be a naturalist to take a child outside. It’s okay if I don’t know the name of every plant and tree, or if I am unable to identify every bird song. Those are things that the kids and I have been able to learn together. The important thing is to just get out there and follow the child’s lead.
Let them play with sticks. Let them climb trees. Let them build forts, catch frogs, and chase butterflies. Let them dig in the dirt and splash in puddles. Let them know it’s okay to get dirty from head to toe.
Since I have made outdoor play a daily priority, I have noticed many positive effects. I have seen a big improvement in the kids' balance, strength, and coordination. They have developed incredible observation skills. Their curiosity and desire to find things out is intrinsically motivated, and that is something that will help them as they go through life.
Perhaps the greatest benefit from our time outside can be best described by the words of a child: