Bringing Nature Play Back

Today’s children spend an average of 30 minutes per week in outdoor “unstructured” play. Even if you add adult-led activities like sports, the number is still seriously overshadowed by the 18+ hours of television they watch weekly. Urbanization, longer school days, organized sports and classes, parental fears and overall “screen time” have all contributed to a dramatic decrease in the amount of time kids have spent playing outdoors over the past 25 years.

As adults, it’s time for us to reminisce. What was your favorite form of outdoor play? When Mom pushed you out the back door saying, “Go play!” – Where did you go? What did you do? There is such freedom and sense of self in connection to nature when you play outside for hours. Does your child get to experience this?

If not, it’s time to re-familiarize yourself and your family with this incredible feeling. Green Hearts Institute for Children in Nature offers a very helpful and informative guide, “A Parents’ Guide to Nature Play: How to Give Your Children More Outdoor Play… and Why You Should!”. I discovered this website and guide in a blog post at The Parenting Passageway about outside play for children. One of its most essential points was the importance of “child-centered” play. They defined it as: “Play that children themselves initiate, guide, change, or abandon… There are no formal objectives and few rules.”

Green Heart’s guide offers great tips for creating an outdoor space that is friendly to child-centered play. Living in a rented duplex, we have less control over our yard, but I was able to immediately implement a few ideas, including a digging pit for my son, Everett. I dedicated an empty flower box to his digging and added a tub of shovels, spoons, cups and twine. After our spring yard cleaning, I added a couple logs and a bundle of sticks, and we often add natural objects found on walks, too. Not surprisingly, he spends a lot of time out there now digging in the dirt, making little rivers, houses, and streets, or just getting dirty.

The guide also includes some family activities that can help rekindle a love of nature. One suggested activity that was already a favorite is a walk in a creek. Creeks and streams are hotbeds for plant, animal and insect life, so they are a marvelous spot for exploration. This year we are also looking forward to lots of camping, even in our own backyard. We plan on participating in this year’s Great American Backyard Campout as well. On one of those nights we’ll be trying out one of the guide’s suggested activities – Moth Baiting – in which we hang a white sheet in the yard and shine a light on it for 30 minutes or more to “bait” moths and other night-flying insects for viewing (and maybe catching). I know Everett will be excited to watch and identify the species that fly around our backyard!

So, families, I’m challenging you to start bringing nature play back. Download the free guide from Green Hearts or take a look at other websites suggested below. Dedicate a piece of your outdoor space to your children, and involve them in deciding how to “kid-scape” it. Instead of turning on the Playstation, hand them a shovel and push them out the door. Even better, join them! We all will be happier and healthier for it.

For more information on the importance of nature-based play and related initiatives check out Green Hearts, Inc., The Children and Nature Network or the National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There.

Photo Credit: Author


Acacia is a stay at home mama playing through life one moment at a time with her husband and two young sons. She is a natural parenting, cloth diapering, gentle disciplining, home schooling, wholesome foods eating, spiritually centered steward to this great Mother Earth.

6 Responses to Bringing Nature Play Back

  1. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama  

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Acacia! I’m so excited to download the guide. At 11 months old, Baby has spent a ton of time outdoors in all seasons, but that has mostly been riding on Mama for hikes and walks. Now that he is starting to be mobile, I want to make sure he plays freely outside and explore.

    • Acacia Moore

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Watching my youngest (13 month old) toddle around the yard and parks is one of my favorite things to do, watching him discover the world through his own wanderings is beautiful!

  2. Jenn  

    I love this post. I was an outdoors child and the statistics you cite about the hours of television are scary.

    Can I add a book recommendation? If you can find Puddles and Wings and Grapevine Swings – Amazon often has it available used for a couple of bucks – get it. It is a huge book of fun activities for kids that get them out in nature. It was my favorite book as a child and I have had a copy ready for my son for years.

    • Acacia Moore

      Thank you for the book recommendation! We’ll be checking it out right away, we love to find new favorites!

  3. Amy McCarty

    This is a great post! I think it is really important for parents to just let kids play. In our society we are so focused on materialistic things. All this so called “baby gear” is un-needed. If you have ever seen the doc “babies” and seen the little African babies they have a BLAST just playing in the dirt and with old stones! Nothing helps a kids imagination grow more than being able to see a crazy adventure in a pile of old trees and stones! 😀 Thank you for this. 🙂

    • Acacia Moore

      Can you believe I still haven’t seen that movie!? After watching my lil ones wander around streams and woods at the campground this weekend, I feel like I am providing them with such awesome opportunites! They are soooo in their element when they are outdoors, even my 13 month old exploring everything new.
      Have fun watching your little ones outdoors!