We must show them the way to play.
Guest blogger Susan Lee talks about the importance of leading the way in engaging kids with nature - and shares her experience with children on the beach near her village.
Each week our little village nursery heads outdoors.
This is for its fabulous ‘Forest Kindergarten’ sessions. The children visit the beach, or the local woodlands, dressed in oversized waterproofs and wellies, wrapped up against the weather. The youngsters are released into the wild to explore and play. This is their nature time.
On a recent visit to the beach I was roped in as parent helper for the day. This is not a chore; I love any opportunity to play with my kids. What really surprised me though, was how reserved some of the children were. As my own son charged down the beach and launched himself wellie boot first into the nearest rock pool, many of his classmates hung back cautiously observing this strange wild behaviour.
We had four year olds scared to walk on the beach.
Children who were worried about getting wet, or fussing about having sand on their hands and clothing. Out of our little group, only half were brave enough to venture onto the rocky shoreline. And only three of our gang were prepared to get hands-on by touching seaweed and letting the little sand crabs scuttle over their fingers.
This was not what I expected. These children have grown up beside the sea. Surely they are used to a bit of sand? It was very easy to spot the children who were accustomed to outdoor play. They were quiet and inquisitive, touching, feeling, climbing and jumping, whilst their less experienced friends took much more encouragement. It really saddened me that so many of these youngsters had been deprived of this amazing learning space right on their own doorstep.
Thankfully, by the end of our session, a few more of our gang had plucked up the courage to get a little messy and engage with the amazing ever-changing beach environment. We played in the water, climbed the rocky ground and compared scratchy limps to squidgy sea anemones. I know from by experience it won't take more than a couple of beach visits before nearly every child is jumping in feet first. These kids are so lucky. As they progress through nursery and school, outdoor learning will be a big part of their curriculum.
The outdoors has so much to offer and children need this experience so badly.
It's only through getting a bit wet and messy that we can really appreciate the world around us. Connecting with nature has been proven to help children in just about every single area of health and development. It’s amazing watching those little characters grow in confidence week-by-week as they begin to fully engage with their new outdoor playground. The abundance of sticks and stones to be collected, moved, constructed and animated by little imaginations is simply endless. It's only though taking children out of the comfort of their classrooms that they will find the curiosity and courage to really explore, learn and grow.
Susan Lee is a passionate advocate of #WildTime. She is from Rain-shine, an award-winning small family business providing quality affordable waterproof clothing for schools, nurseries and groups to allow children the freedom to play outside whatever the weather.