Over the last few months, the Education department has been working hard and playing harder. Why is that, you may ask. In order to foster more nature play at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, we have been creating fun and exciting Adventure Days in Preston’s Place at the zoo. But what is nature play? Simply put, nature play is any open-ended and unstructured play that takes place outdoors. It allows children the freedom to explore and be creative while problem-solving and discovering new things in the natural world. Playing outdoors also gives them the opportunity to form a connection with nature that can follow them into adulthood. Adventure Days have different themed activities in order to offer a greater variety in our programming and more reasons for you and your family to continue coming back to join the fun!
Why should I care about encouraging nature play? Experts agree that there are many benefits to participating in nature play. Some of those include increasing children’s awareness and self-confidence as they explore outside while also fostering creativity as they use their imagination to play. It can also help improve a child’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social skills through different activities. Our goal is to encourage participation in nature play in order to foster a healthy relationship between humans and nature that is carried into the future. By helping people connect with nature, we are helping them to form an appreciation of nature that will hopefully inspire them in the future to want to preserve it. People who connect with nature are more likely to take action to help stop animals they love from going extinct, to help clean up hiking trails in mountain ranges they enjoy exploring, to remove plastic pollution from beaches they appreciate using during the summers, and the list goes on!
So where can I find nature play? Anywhere you want! Ok, well maybe not anywhere because you do have to respect land boundaries, but you can use any public space, a nature trail, parks, or even your own backyard for nature play! Another option is getting involved in nature play clubs or looking for places or companies that host nature play activities. This is a great way to get involved in your local community. It gives you the opportunity to connect with new people and can also provide the chance to give back to your community. Take this time to explore new places, try out new activities, and make new friends! Check out the Nature Play section of our website to see what programs we have coming up at the Lehigh Valley Zoo!
Ok, but what do I do? The sky is the limit when it comes to nature play! Well, that and you and your child’s imagination (or even your Google search skills). Nature play should be unstructured play time and should be guided by your child’s interest and creativity. You can always start with an idea and see where it takes them! Does your kid love bugs? Try going on a bug scavenger hunt under logs and leaves! Do they like getting down and dirty outside? Take some pots, pans, and cooking utensils outside to make a mud kitchen! Nature play can take many forms, and the greater your variety of activities, the more fun you have! Experiment with textures (we all know kids usually like anything that involves getting messy). Explore at different times of day (like watching the sunrise vs nighttime with lightening bugs). Want to try something new? Go on a guided nature hike, sign up for a bird watching tour, learn how to garden together, or get tickets for programs run by local conservation organizations.
Starting to incorporate nature play into your daily life can seem daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature! The satisfaction of seeing the immediate benefits of playing in nature will make it well worth the research. It offers new opportunities for children so they are less likely to pester you about being bored with nothing to do, but it also gives you a new way to interact with and connect with your kids that is fun and exciting! Not to mention the long-term benefits we talked about earlier that you will see down the road. If you are looking for an easy way to get started, head on over to the Lehigh Valley Zoo during one of our Adventure Day programs where you can experience nature play right inside the zoo! Follow our website and blog for upcoming Adventure Days and to learn more about nature play.
Written by Tara Mlodzienski
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA