Have you read the New York Times "Making Playgrounds a Little More Dangerous"? It made my heart sing, I'm feeling a little over our local playgrounds which increasingly look like the plastic "safer" versions of the playgrounds in this article. We've stopped going to the playground altogether and chose to go to our local Nature Reserve instead. It's been hard to convince some of our friends, especially when they prefer the indoor playground variety. While indoor playgrounds are much cleaner/drier/warmer/safer, the nature reserve has so much to offer our children.
Here are a few reasons why we prefer the Nature Reserve:
- It's free. Not only is it free to access but the ecological footprint is lighter. While outdoor playgrounds are also free to access, indoor playgrounds can be expensive. Also at the Nature Reserve, there is no pressure (from friends or children) to stop at the cafe.
- There is greater contact with nature. At the Nature Reserve logs, water, stones, sticks, mud are playthings, there is no plastic in sight. This gives children the skills to play in nature without man-made playthings.
- We are able to naturally and without effort, observe lifecycles. At the Nature Reserve, we have seen nests, eggs and chicks, frog eggs, tadpoles, froglets and, frogs.
- We are able to naturally and without effort observe changes in season, some of these are obvious but others are subtle.
- We see species and varieties that we don't see anywhere else, the Nature Reserve is the only place we've heard the cuckoo and we frequently hear the woodpecker.
- There is greater exposure to risky play. Children are able to test their own limits, their limits are not artificially set for them, as they are on the playground. There is water to wade in, tree to climb, steep banks to navigate, tree logs to balance on. Children learn to assess the risk, this is such an important skill. They can assess then test the risk with parent supervision. A part of this is learning to assess distance and their own strength.
- Children learn more about their bodies and how they work. There is more throwing, jumping and balancing. There is a refinement of these skills, as the child tries to throw further or climb higher.
- Children learn more about physics, about cause and effect. What floats or how far they can throw something. Children receive greater feedback from their environment.
- It's quiet. Quiet like only nature can be. We can be still and hear nature without human intervention. There are very few places where we can experience this.
- The children get wet, dirty, muddy, cold. I find this a positive and prefer if they enjoy their day while exposed to the natural environment and all that entails.
- It expands the child's knowledge and interest in the natural ecosystem, the learning opportunities are endless. While my children expand on one interest another develops. The natural environment is ever changing and this means the child's observations are ever changing and the learning is limitless.
- We experience greater interaction with our wider community. At the playground, we typically meet other families, usually with small children, at the Nature Reserve we meet a wider variety of people, often elderly and retired but from all walks of life.
- The children are exposed to a great variety of microbes. I've been reading Let Them Eat Dirt and appreciate how beneficial outdoor and dirty/muddy play is to the child's developing microbiome.
- It's fun. Honestly, my children have more fun playing in nature out in the open.
Finding a good spot at a Nature Reserve can be difficult. In the last three locations we've lived it's taken us a while to find our favourite spot. If you haven't found the right spot for your family I encourage you to keep looking and not to give up. We love somewhere near water and that has good public access, with young children I prefer sites that have regular visitors and telephone coverage. Safety precautions should always be taken especially in hot weather, read warning signs, stay hydrated, always wear appropriate clothing and bring snacks.