Children Prefer Nature

For those of you wondering how children want to play, read on.

A new survey released in early August 2006 by the Children's Play Council found that 82% of children "would rather play in natural spaces such as gardens, parks and local fields instead of places like streets or car parks.

"It also found that 86 per cent of children prefer outdoor activities, including playing out with their friends, building dens and getting muddy, to playing computer games."

And nearly three in four children (72 per cent) would like to play outside more often.

"What children are telling us is that they want more opportunities to play out, in stimulating natural spaces where they can have fun, be with their friends and use their imagination,' said Adrian Voce, director of the Children's Play Council, which coordinates Playday in partnership with Playboard Northern Ireland, Play Scotland and Play Wales. 'It is vital for both national and local governments to take this message on board if they are to meet the play needs of today's children and young people.

"Parents also have an important role in making sure that their children can get out and play in natural environments."

In its own internal survey of over 4,000 children, The Natural Playgrounds Company® is finding the same thing. Kids want more experience with nature and using their imagination, and less exposure to rigid, manufactured playground environments.

Parents, care-givers, playground committees, and others: Get the Ten Top Tips that help children have more chances to play naturally (further details may be found at

Play, Naturally: Ten Top Tips (from
  1. Ask yourself, how can your children have the same exciting opportunities as you used to have, to play naturally?
    • Remember your own childhood memories of playing in natural places: damming, running, climbing, digging, building, splashing, dreaming, chatting and watching are just some of the great natural play memories adults have.

  2. Allow children the time and space to discover natural play opportunities for themselves.
    • Natural spaces are the ultimate play environments and children instinctively seek out and discover ways in which to interact with and use nature. Children who have direct, playful experiences of nature are most likely to develop caring attitudes and behaviors in later life.

  3. Find out where the nearest natural spaces are to you.
    • Children need everyday nature. This includes free access to parks, gardens, city farms, village greens, hedgerows and rough ground within easy reach of their homes, as well as visits to woodlands, beaches and open grassland further afield.

  4. Provide old clothes and outdoor gear.
    • This will help children play naturally in all weathers. Getting muddy, wet or sweaty and coming home with snagged or grass stained clothing is just part of playing outdoors. Opportunities to play with nature, through climbing trees, exploring the world of animals, building dens or making mud pies, are fun and help children to cultivate an awareness of and respect for nature.

  5. Encourage children to play out and inspire them with the magic of natural spaces.
    • Sensitive adults can support and enthuse children by sharing the sense of wonder of the natural world and jointly uncovering its mysteries and surprises. Stories, costumes, treasure trails and quests can gently kindle the flames of children's imaginations when playing in natural settings. Outdoor natural spaces allow children to be spontaneous and create and explore their own imaginary worlds.

  6. Help children take risks in play, like climbing trees.
    • Children need and want to take risks through play. Playing in natural settings allows children to find ways of challenging themselves and taking risks that fit them as individuals. Be open and transparent about what is involved in natural play activities so that children playing outdoors can experience the fun and excitement of stretching and testing themselves.

  7. Find your nearest adventure playground.
    • If parents and children prefer to play with adults around, adventure playgrounds usually have some natural areas. In some areas there may be playworkers or park keepers who encourage children to play in natural spaces. Ask you local park experts what supervised play opportunities are provided locally.

  8. Look out for opportunities for free natural supplies.
    • Children love to move things around and rearrange their play spaces. Natural resources, like tree and hedge trimmings make great den-building materials. Good play spaces can be made by adding natural elements into children's outdoor playgrounds, such as trees and plants, earth, rocks, logs, water and natural moveable objects.

  9. Stick up for children's right to play naturally outdoors.
    • Children need advocates who can help them find natural places to play. Encourage children to play naturally in your area, call on your local authority to provide accessible wild spaces for children to play in, and support your local play centre to run environmental play sessions in outdoor settings.

  10. Experience it yourself!
    • The best way for adults to prepare and plan for successful natural play is to experience it! Think about natural play activities you would like today's children doing, and then have a go for yourself.

Written with support from Martin Maudsley, Wild About Play, Playwork Partnerships.

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