12:57pm Thursday 17 October 2019

The benefits of natural play

At the University of Wollongong this week more than 200 Bachelor of Education and Early Years students are being treated to the opportunity to engage in natural play.

The natural play sculpture activities on campus will allow students to get their hands dirty and explore all the creative possibilities that loose natural materials can provide. The activity supports their studies on environmental education and the important role schools and childcare centres have in providing natural play opportunities for children.

Around the world, children gravitate to landscapes that they can transform and nature is the supreme repository of “loose parts.” For children, nothing matches nature’s “loose parts” for creative possibilities and as children play in nature, they are discovering the material of life on which human survival depends.

But for many children having the experience of getting your hands dirty is a thing they can only dream about. As parents become more concerned about children’s exposure to germs and strangers and our preoccupation as a society to fill up the day with busy, structured activities, children are having fewer opportunities to get down and get dirty.

Yet research around the world and here in Australia by UOW Faculty of Education academic Associate Professor Karen Malone illustrates that children have an innate desire and curiosity to engage with nature and if asked where and what they would like to be doing chose natural settings and playing in nature as the most important.

But is it more than just about having a nice place to play? Research over the years exploring ‘restorative green theory’ has shown that for adults, access to gardens, parks, trees or green space has been associated with reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, greater emotional well-being, better concentration and problem-solving, more rapid healing after surgery and greater work satisfaction and productivity.

And for children too, access to nature has now been identified through research as having many benefits. Research has shown that children who spend more time playing outside in natural areas get sick less and eat more healthy food, show better concentration, have more empathy for living things, have better balance and agility, play varied and more elaborate and imaginative games, share and collaborate more and are more likely to be adults who seek out natural experiences and active lifestyles.

And with all the concern around children with ADHD recent research from the USA has identified that “children with ADD and ADHD concentrate, complete tasks and follow directions better after they play outside in green settings, and the greener the settings, the more improvement they show”.

MEDIA PLEASE NOTE: Students will start their Natural Ephermeral Sculpture Gallery at 10.30am tomorrow (Thursday 19 August) and conclude by mid afternoon. It will be done in the space between buildings 20/21 and 23/25. And on Friday afternoon (20 August) a free public presentation from well known landscape architects and natural play consultants Kate Luckcraft and Ric McConaghy on play, nature and children will be given from 2.30pm to 4.30pm in Room 138 of Building 25. Afternoon tea and a guided tour through the completed natural sculpture garden will be provided.

For further information contact Associate Professor Karen Malone on 4221 5087 or email kmalone@uow.edu.au

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