Resources & Activities

Supporting children’s nature play - 3 key ingredients

There are 3 key ingredients to supporting children’s outdoor play and they are a lot simpler than you might think!

Outdoor Play
The World Around Us
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Think back to memories of your childhood play. What were you doing? Who were you with? Where were some of the sights and sounds and smells that you experienced? 

Many of us remember the time spent outside. We may remember playing in the streets around our home. Or exploring nearby forests, ditches, ravines, or other places that weren’t necessarily “play spaces”.

Your memories are important!

Have you ever wondered why those memories were so important? A lot of adults talk about a sense of freedom to be able to do what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it. The freedom to meet up with friends to run and jump and shout and play. To have a sense of limitless time to be able to explore the outdoors and do what they wanted to do. 


These are all important features of outdoor/nature play, and they’re not generally available when children play inside. They’re important for children’s health, development and well being. 

So why are we seeing a decreasing trend in children’s outdoor play? And what can we do about it? 

Three key ingredients

Doctor Mariana Brussoni talks about the 3 key ingredients as being time, space and freedom. No fancy equipment or resources are needed here!

When children are outside playing, they’re more physically active, connecting with nature and being able to set their own goals and figure out how to attain those goals. Negotiating with their friends is really important for their cognitive, social and emotional development. 

Likewise, figuring out how to solve problems, and how to keep themselves safe is also crucial for their developing self-confidence, resilience, and risk management skills.

A downward trend in outdoor play

Over the past several generations, there’s been a downward trend in the time that children are spending outside. For a variety of reasons, this is likely due to a push for playing indoors. But as we’ve learned more about the importance of outdoor play for children’s health, development and well being there’s been growing concern about this trend of “disappearing play” from children’s lives.

Simple solutions

There are some really easy things that educators, parents and caregivers can do to support play in their children’s lives based on the three key ingredients for children’s outdoor play: 

  • Allowing  them time to play. This can mean actually scheduling it into the calendar, making sure that it doesn’t get lost in the busyness of everyday life and rushing around. 
  • Providing interesting spaces for play. One of the easiest ways to do this is to bring in loose parts. Things that are already lying around like sticks and stones and leaves and tarps and crates. Basically, things that children can move around. This really allows them to let their imagination shape their play and deepen their playful explorations and discoveries. It increases the quality of the play. 
  • Freedom to play the way that they want to play. Allow children to take risks. If the idea of allowing children to engage in risky play makes you a little uncomfortable, here’s a handy tip! The next time you catch yourself calling out to a child “be careful!” just pause for a second. Before you intervene, count to 10 and let the situation play itself out a little. At the end of the 10 seconds, reconsider whether it is still important that you get involved.

Disclaimer: We are not endorsing dangerous play, you need to intervene immediately if there is a risk of life or danger. Risky play is not dangerous. Risky play is described as “play that incorporates safe risks relative to a child’s age, size, motor skills, and comfort level”.

So that’s it, the 3 key ingredients to support children’s outdoor play. Your job now is to reflect on these three ideas, and perhaps set one simple goal for how you can help support children’s play. It doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Little changes can make a big difference!

Reflective Questions and Prompts:

What are 3 ways that you can support children to take more risks?

What are some simple adjustments you can make to the rhythm of your day to allow children more time to play?

What resources are available to you in your community, where you can access loose parts for play?

Dr Mariana Brussoni is a developmental child psychologist who has investigated child injury prevention and children’s outdoor play for 15 years. Her work and research findings were featured in over 100 media outlets from 14 different countries.

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