The nature play phenomenon is gaining momentum in both rural and urban settings around Australia. Planet Ark alarmingly reports only one in four Australian children has ever climbed a tree and half of them have never experienced a bushwalk. Terms such as “helicopter parenting”, “cotton wool kids” and a “screen generation” are entering common vocabulary. Nature play is countering the plastic, television and computer driven childhoods we see around us. It is steering children into the unstructured outdoor spaces of their local areas to foster a connection to nature, develop resilience and develop various aspects of children’s wellbeing.
Bush Playgroups, Bush Kinder and Nature Play are all common terms in this growing movement. One popular mode of delivery is in organised children’s holiday programs for 5 – 12 year olds. While for some parents it’s simply convenient vacation care, are nature play holidays programs really more than that? What are the children attending these outdoor programs gaining? Are they learning the practical outdoor skills? How are the programs impacting children’s time spent outdoors? Could it impact on more formal outdoor education in later years? The Outdoor Connections Nature Play program is utilised as an example to answer these questions and lays the groundwork outdoor educators looking to implement nature play into their settings.