Written by Barry Rivera, Volunteer Manager at Austin Parks Foundation
In addition to just getting kids outdoors, nature play offers some cognitive and behavioral benefits to kids of all ages. The good news is - nature play is the perfect way to combine sensory, imaginary and motor skill development all in one!
For smaller kids sensory experiences are very important. Throughout early childhood, kids use their senses to try to make sense of the world by touching, tasting, hearing, seeing, smelling, and moving. Children, and even adults, retain more of what they’ve learned when they use one or more of their senses.
Additionally, imagination is an essential ingredient in nature play. Imaginative play lets kids act out experiences they may have had or something interesting to them. These fantastical scenes and scenarios are experiments in decision making. Kids are essentially learning how to behave, and practicing their social skills.
The last piece of our nature play puzzle is motor skill development and self control. Both are skills we have to practice, and both are easy to incorporate into nature play! Here’s a great list of the stages of motor skill development for kids at every age. Notice how many are a perfect fit for nature play?
6 More Nature Play Activities
In addition to our 6 Fun Nature Play Activities with the Rivera Family blog, below are a few of our family’s favorite activities for sensory experiences, imaginary play and developing motor skills and self control!
1. Mini Sandbox
Purchase bagged sand and put it in a tub. Bury toys, painted rocks, or any of your nature treasures, and let them feel away!
2. Sunken Ship
Instead of filling a tub with sand, try water! You could also combine sand and water for a sunken ship adventure and let kids explore for buried treasures on the “ocean floor”
3. Search for Rolly Polly Ollies
Search the yard for Rolly Polly Ollies aka pillbugs! We love lifting up rocks and sticks to see what magical bugs lay underneath. Practice counting, or inferences by having kids guess what they’ll find.
4. Stone Soup!
A great book AND a fun activity. Just fill a giant pot with rocks and nature treasures to create your very own stone soup. If you have kitchen utensils that you don’t mind getting dirty it’s even more fun to practice pouring and stirring; but a stick will work just fine in a pinch.
5. Practice Your Aim
Practice some hand-eye coordination, and a little self control, by hammering golf tees into cardboard with a wooden mallet. You could also use a rock and a few sticks in some soft ground!
6. Foraging for Fungi
This wet spring makes for great mushroom hunting. This is a great time to teach kids about fungi, how they grow, and how to practice self control when we don’t pick them! If it’s a few tasty treats you’re after, buy a grow your own mushroom kit. But if you want to be hardcore about it, you could set up a forest farm of mushrooms in your nearest green space.
Nature Play While Sheltering in Place
Having nobody to be with other than each other and having nowhere to go other than outside has been restorative for us as a family and provided so much joy for our kids.
Do you miss volunteering with Austin Parks Foundation? No worries. Our outdoor play can increase kids propensity to be environmental stewards later in life!
Don’t let the weather get you down, every child has an unexplained calling to jump in puddles. Go for it! I could go on and on! Listen to a playlist on Austin Parks Foundation's Spotify, get your dirty clothes on and get out there and touch some stuff!