Last year I was asked to write an article on play and nature for the magazine In-Fan-Cia, of the Rosa Sensat Teachers Association and the first thing that came to my mind is to think … Why is nature a space for ideal game? And that is the question that I tried to answer throughout the entire article, of which I want to share with you some reflections, because I firmly believe in nature as the inherent and proper place of play in childhood (at the end I review the article original).
Children have become spectators of the world and of the game. Something as instinctive and necessary as the urge to play has been undermined by many toys that work at the push of a button . The child observes how this material moves, speaks or makes noise but is not really playing. He is not interacting with materials, building and imagining stories; developing his senses and skills through play, but is being invaded by a large number of stimuli before which he can only remain still and observe.
For this reason, the need to re-establish free and unstructured play strongly arises. If it is in nature, even better . Children must have the opportunity to learn directly from the world, to observe it, to interact with it, to experience it with their hands and their whole body. There is not, nor will there be, any material, electronic device or computer program that offers children the variety and appropriateness of stimuli that nature offers .
THE INSTINCTS OF NATURE AND PLAY
The impulse to play in children is innate and responds to a biological and social need . It is through play that they learn to interact with the environment, to put in order what happened during the day, to try out new skills …
But parallel to this play instinct, children have a natural instinct (biophilia): an innate attraction to natural environments. And through play, the little ones satisfy their need to know the closest environment and to come into contact with the natural world.
Therefore, game and nature are a perfect dyad and, in fact, two sides of the same coin. It is through play that they explore the natural world and nature is, at the same time, the best framework for play , not only because it offers a variety of elements and stimuli that are the perfect support for free play, but also because it satisfies that need for nature that children (and probably all human beings) have.
NATURE AS A PLAYING SPACE
From the perspective of a child… the important thing about a space is what does this place have to play with? What can I do in it?
And there, without a doubt, nature beats any artificially prepared space for children. The natural outdoor spaces have a variety of elements, textures and challenges that offer, in turn, a plurality of gaming experiences.
BUT… WHAT IS NATURE LIKE AND WHAT CAN BE DONE IN IT?
Nature is in neutral tones
The natural spaces are in neutral tones, a uniform frame in beige, brown or green tones, among which flashes of colors in the form of flowers, butterflies, birds stand out … It is easy to see a child walking along a path of sand and suddenly see him focus his attention on a little ladybug he has found on the road. This contrasts with current toys or spaces intended for children, full of colors. Faced with such a quantity of stimuli, the child does not know where to focus his gaze.
Nature is the pedagogy of the snail
Everything is slow in her. You cannot accelerate the growth of a plant, a pregnancy, or the time it takes for a bird to make a nest.
This time of slow passage is the one that makes sense for a child, the one that is in line with their development and with all human beings. We do not grow from one day to the next, everything has a process, and we must reinstate this slowness in the lives of today’s children, who live stressed in the midst of the culture of immediacy and haste.
In nature there is silence
In contrast to current technologies or toys, full of buttons that display all kinds of noises, in natural spaces there is, above all, silence. But it is a silence that allows you to open your senses. The song of a bird or the buzz of a fly invite the sense of hearing to open up to that whisper. On the other hand, shrill and artificial sounds cause the opposite effect in children, the body closes itself to protect itself from the noise.
Nature is many other things, it is beauty, it is the ability to wonder and be dazzled … But above all, nature stimulates the senses, without over-stimulating the child.
Nature is a treasure of loose parts
When we go out into natural spaces the magic of the game happens: a child begins to explore his environment, he finds sticks that turn into swords, arrows or with which he builds huts. Suddenly, in his newly opened house a shop is installed and the genre begins to arrive: pebbles and seeds make fruits and vegetables and, at the same time, serve as payment coins.
All these loose pieces that nature offers (sticks, stones, leaves, etc.) allow the child to develop a rich symbolic game or use them to make more artistic creations, such as mandalas of natural elements, for example.
Nature offers a variety of sensory experiences
Nature offers sensory elements that all children in the world have played with throughout history. Touching the water, mixing it with earth, making muddy chocolate, playing with the dry sand from the beach, sliding it over and over between your hands …
When we go out every day to play with children in natural environments, it is not necessary to have plasticine or the like, nature already offers multiple textures to experiment with.
Rigid structures and motor challenges
Nature also offers an infinite number of rigid structures that can be played with. Older children instinctively climb trees, testing their motor skills, calculating risks … Younger children prefer to jump over fallen logs, as if they were doing an obstacle course or imagine that those logs are cars, trucks …
All these characteristics allow a plurality of games to unfold in nature, from sensory experiences, to symbolic play, passing through the most motor activities. And none of the materials it offers indicate what or how to play, allowing the child to decide at every moment, according to their inner needs and desires.
This very important fact, that it is the child who plays the game freely according to their own motivations, together with all the additional benefits that being in natural environments entails (relaxation, physical activity, improvement of relationships, etc.) make the nature in the ideal play setting for children.
So it is worth going out to the country more often with the little ones and naturalizing the outdoor spaces of schools and urban parks as much as possible, so that all children can enjoy the advantages of growing up in outdoor spaces. and in nature.
This article is a fragment of the one originally published in the magazine In-fan-cia , of the Rosa Sensat Teachers Association, in its Spanish edition, number 161. If you are interested in reading the full article or many other interesting articles that are published, I recommend subscribe or consult some of them available on their website.
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