Guest Post from Fiona Robbe
“Access to outdoor natural play spaces is critical for a child’s healthy development and overall wellbeing. Creating a more imaginative and natural environment within the home space is easy and inexpensive. There are plenty of ways to create a fun, imaginative play space for kids in your garden, your backyard or inside the home to suit any budget and any child.”
10 tips to encourage creative and natural play for children:
2. Provide a play props box. It’s great to have a play box full of balls, ropes, nets, racquets, bats, marbles, hoops, cones, outdoor toys, spades, buckets, watering cans on hand for children to play with. This box or shed should be readily available for use.
3. Provide a smooth area on which children can draw. Chalk boards, white boards or large sheets of paper are a great way for kids to express themselves. If you have an outdoor pavement area where chalk can be used, encourage outdoor games such as handball and hopscotch that can be regularly drawn and then played. This also keeps them active while using their imagination.
4. Include ephemeral elements in the play area. Adding elements that can be changed or frequently transformed is very important to sustain and hold children’s interest in playing in a space they know well. Place ephemeral elements such as a collection of shells, bark, pine cones etc. in an open basket which the child can freely interact with. Keep swapping materials for play.
5. Use natural materials and encourage loose natural objects. Provide as many natural materials in the space as possible such as grass, sand, water, mulch, ropes, rocks, timber and plants. The more variety, the better. Provide loose natural items that children can manipulate and build things with. These may include sticks, stones, sand, water, leaves, petals and ropes for kids to work with in any way they like.
6. Provide children with a scrapbook to record their outdoor adventures. From an early age it is invaluable to reinforce what is important to children and why. Provide scrapbooks and paste pictures or photos of their garden, animals, outdoor play and adventures in these books. Doing this together reinforces the value of play experiences for children and often gives them an extensive vocabulary and emotional reference to nature. Include photos of your child playing with other children to really place value on friendships and moments of play.
7. Challenge children’s balance and co‐ordination. Challenge children’s physical prowess and development with items such as swings and slides or provide access to things they can climb, such as a tree with a knotted rope to get you up to the first branch. Challenge their sense of co‐ordination and balance with logs and stepping stones.
8. Stimulate imaginative play with creative play settings. Stimulate imaginative play by providing open‐ended play settings where children ‘complete the scene’ you have set using their imagination. Some examples include draping a sheet over a tree branch to make a cubby on, making a sandpit an interesting shape like a boat and suggest your kids “go on an adventure and sail in your boat.”
9. Provide challenges that stimulate problem solving. Provide challenges that stimulate cognitive connections and problem solving i.e. ask your child “how many snails are in the veggie patch – can you count them?”, “how about you make a house for your teddy” or “what does this plant need to grow?” In addition, provide items such as tree branches or balls to encourage children to spontaneously invent games and activities which involve problem solving and creativity while being active.
10. Provide social opportunities for children to play with other children or with adults. For many children, play is a social experience so the design of their play areas needs to accommodate groups of children and needs to be sized accordingly. For example, a sandpit should be big enough for about five children, rather than one. A cubby should be spacious and allow for at least two children inside. This allows kids to share their special play moment with another person, doubling its value. Children also benefit enormously from the comfort, suggestions and inspiration that a caring adult can bring to play, so include seating, edges and internal spaces in cubbies or tunnels to accommodate an adult.
Fiona is an authority on natural play spaces and has specialised in the design of outdoor children's environments. Fiona's commitment to design of quality playgrounds includes daily advocacy for the rights of children of all ages and abilities to play outdoors safely, regularly and imaginatively. She is also an ambassador for The Natural Confectionery Company and worked with them on a project to inspire imaginative play with the Sydney community of Blacktown to rejuvenate the Kookaburra Playground at Nurrangingy Reserve.
I hope you enjoyed Fiona's tips and it will inspire you and encourage you to have some more fun in your own backyard!