“Giving your children time to engage in free play is like giving them a very special gift–a gfit that keeps on giving, preparing children for adulthood by cultivating and nurturing essential life skills. Play allows children opportunities to get creative, to pratice regulating emotions, to enhance social development, and even to learn about themselves inthe process. Having the ability to play away from the adult world opens up many opportunities and feelings of freedom.” -Angela Hanscom, Balanced and Barefoot (From Restricted Movement to Active Free Play)
About Nature Play
Before diving in to my favorite Nature Play Books, I wanted to first discuss a couple thoughts about nature play:
(1) Nature Play is Born Out of Inactivity
Rich nature play is often born out of inactivity (or boredom).
In this photo my kids are pretending to dig for dinosaur bones in our yard. They came up with the idea. I was sitting and reading my book, then paused to snap a photo and went back to my own thing. I was not a part of it, I don’t get credit for it, and there isn’t really anything astounding for me to do, claim, or share about it.
And the truth is — this, right here, is exactly the kind of nature play that is worthy of celebration! We give the most praise on social media to nature studies, nature arts and crafts projects, nature games, nature learning. All of those things are so beautiful and so worthy of celebrating. Truly.
BUT … nature play is a harder thing to photograph and share, and I think it is because the best kind of nature play is born out of inactivity, not activity. Boredom is a beautiful thing, friends. Boredom is a thing to chase after, not avoid or remedy. Boredom is an opportunity, not a problem to fix.
I wish there were hundreds of moments for me to hit “like” on when parents send their children outside with nothing to do, no agenda. When we reject the idea that our kids must be doing things worthy of a photo. When we reject the idea that we are in charge of stimulating their happiness. When we reject the idea that the ends matter more than the means. When we reject the idea that our kids need a gorgeously scenic nature backdrop to play in in order to live an amazing childhood.
(2) Nature Play Is Self-Directed
Roxaboxen. In my mind this is the ultimate children-at-nature-play book. A celebration of the active imagination at its best. With nothing but nature loose parts & random materials, children can create a dynamic & lasting fantastical world full of shops, houses, jails, and forts. The possibilities are endless.
I wonder if, when we read this, we overlook a simple fact: no adults are present. Think about it. No adults are there snapping or staging photos. No adults are helping dig for treasure. No adults are there giving ideas on how to play with a stick. No adults are making sure the kids look clean and cute. No adults are setting the rules. No adults are fretting over the hurts or managing the conflicts. No adults are a part of the memories.
In nature play, children do not *NEED* to be instructed or managed by adults.
Nature play is mostly self-directed; however, that doesn’t mean adult-directed activities, games, crafts, and nature studies are a bad thing. I believe they just need to be kept in their rightful place.
Books to Inspire Nature Play
So, keeping in mind those two points above, I do still think there is value in the following books that share fun and engaging ways to play in nature. The ideas presented here might not be NEW or something you couldn’t just find searching Pinterest, but I personally love having a physical book to peruse for inspiration instead of scouring the internet with my kids around.
Without further ado, here is my list of favorite books to inspire nature play.
Nature Play Ideas Checklist
Below you’ll find a link to the PDF of this nature play checklist I created for myself.
I have used this list for Nature Play ideas for a few years . I find it is helpful to just glance at every once an awhile and have one or two ideas in the back of my mind that could be fun for us to do that week. I do not see this as a checklist where I feel like we have to do everything here or my kids will have a deprived childhood!
It simply is a list of ideas. Potential. Opportunities. Inspiration.
Hopefully it is of use to you!
For Further Inspiration
Natural Backyard Play Supplies — I detailed what our backyard nature supplies look like in that post.
Balanced and Barefoot by Angela Hanscom — this book is all about the myriad of benefits of unrestricted outdoor play. I appreciate that this isn’t just “forest school” but has a broader range of application.
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne — this has nothing to do with. nature play, but this book has principles that align so much with the idea of gifting our children with childhood. The chapter “Filtering Out The Adult World” is especially relevant.
“Yes, daily life in America (or any other country) involves risks and dangers to children. There are perhaps even more risks now than when we were growing up…. Yet, as parents, we need to be more than just our desire to protect, no matter how noble and important that is. We need to live with confidence, to parent with a sense of strength and openness, and perhaps most of all, a sense of humor. The primal urge to protect is our cortisol spigot; I’m suggesting we not invite it to be turned so easily and so often.” -Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
**note this list has been updated 5/19/20