Children, Play and Nature by Niki Buchan

5th January 2017

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Niki Buchan is an Educational Consultant with Natural Learning Early Childhood Consultancy. She lived in Scotland for many years and, although she now lives in Australia, she still regularly works in the UK. Niki works internationally as a conference keynote speaker, nature pedagogue, nature kindergarten facilitator, naturalistic playground advisor, international study visit facilitator, mentor, author as well as delivering a large range of professional learning opportunities on all aspects of early childhood education and care. We welcome Niki to the Childcare Expo Community as she explains to use the power of learning outdoors…

Niki Buchan - early years blog | Childcare ExpoChildren already have a right to play. Should all children be entitled to nature-based experiences? Should this be a right?

Throwing colourful crunchy autumn leaves high in the sky, jumping from rock to rock across a trickling stream, climbing high into the tree canopy, carefully balancing along a fallen log, exploring rockpools on the beach, gently holding a tiny bird in warm hands, feeling an earthworm wriggle on bare hands, these are just some of the joys of childhood; a time to play and explore freely and with abandon.

There is a growing awareness of the necessity and benefits of such natural, joyful experiences for young children as well as a realisation that many children are being deprived of such rich opportunities. Time, space, risk, lack of adult knowledge and the pressure of  academic learning are a few of the challenges practitioners mention when considering outings beyond the gate and into nature. In reality, such challenges can be overcome by passionate practitioners who believe that children have a right to a high quality childhood that includes access to natural environments.

Niki Buchan - early years | Childcare Expo blog Children need to play, in fact they have a right to play. Research demonstrates that during play children develop the foundations for academic learning while maintaining high levels of well-being. “The intellectual and cognitive benefits of playing have been well documented. Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2005). Through play children explore, develop and embed complex concepts including scientific, mathematical and technological skills and thinking skills.

Being in nature offers a wide range of benefits including an increase in wellbeing. Children are less stressed, there is less conflict and they develop a resilience which allows them to cope with adversity. ‘Nature alleviates the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits.’ 
Wells & Evans, 2003

There is a perception that taking children into a natural space exposes them to increased risk. The reality is that there are far fewer serious injuries in nature. Children and adults are more alert, this leads to an increase in awareness of possible hazards and risks. Hazards should be managed, depending on the age and ability of the children, and not Niki Buchan- Early years blog | Childcare Expo necessarily removed. Children have a desire to challenge themselves and need to develop their ability to self risk assess. The only way adults can keep children safe is for children to be able to keep themselves safe. This develops through practice from an early age.

With researched benefits to children of all ages, I believe play and nature-based practice should be a right for all children until at least the age of 8 years. Adults, as the advocates for children, need to support their rights to play and be in out in nature, to experience the playful joy of childhood, to build memories. Together we can do it.

Niki is considered a leading voice in promoting Nature-based pedagogy and has written many articles and books on the subject. Her popular book “A Practical Approach to Nature – Based Practice” is published by Bloomsbury in the UK and will be available in February 2017. To contact Niki please e-mail niki@naturallearning.net.au.  We look forward to hearing more from Niki in the future.

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