The Benefits Of Natural Play Environments For Children

There must be a very sound motivation for a company to invest millions of dollars in a children’s playground, so what’s behind global mining giant, Rio Tinto’s ongoing commitment to the 60,000m2 NatureScape development in King’s Park in Perth?

Big business and child’s play come together in this natural bushland space which has just re-opened after a three million dollar upgrade which included the construction of two large aerial walkways, a new waterhole for wading, a new cubby-building area and a web of climbing ropes.  The upgrade was completed following extensive consultation with visitors, children, teachers, parents, the community and experts in childhood development.

A spokesperson for the mining company said that the Rio Tinto NatureScape was all about connecting children with nature to help them learn to appreciate Western Australia’s unique environment.  The company wanted to give children a hands-on experience and to really inspire them to think about how they can contribute to its conservation.*

Jacqui Kennedy, King’s Park Manager of Visitor Services and Community Engagement was also quoted as saying that connecting kids with nature was such an important part of a healthy childhood and that the message that they had received loud and clear was that the community wanted a place where kids could explore in a fun, nature-based area; be challenged by taking reasonable risks; and have the opportunity to understand more about the wonders of the natural environment.**

Clearly, the scale and scope of this facility reflects the growing understanding that natural play environments have significant benefits for children and should be encouraged.

It’s a view which underpins one of the world’s enduringly popular and successful educational philosophy, the Reggio Emilia Approach, which regards the environment as the ‘third teacher’ alongside educators and families.  Physical spaces have the potential to influence what and how children learn and the environment in those early learning centres that follow this approach are carefully curated to enhance learning and discovery.

Extensive use is made of natural materials and the spaces are designed to stimulate and encourage cognitive skills, critical thinking, problem solving, memory retention skills, better reasoning and improved concentration.

Exposure to nature also helps children to regulate their emotions better and gives them opportunities to take risks, discover and explore new things, solve problems, unleash their creative sides and develop a sense of wonder.  These natural play environments give children a break from the modern structured world which is ruled by screens, schedules, time limits and tests, providing them with an unstructured place where they can think independently, direct their own learning, play passively if they want to and express themselves freely.

Reggio Emilia educators believe that children should be given the freedom to explore the outdoor environment and as they conduct their own learning experiences, they will become more engaged in their learning, more resilient, more socially competent and more self-confident.  From the tactile surface of bark and grass to a squishy mud patch, a seating area made from tree stumps to a swinging rope, a growing garden to a pond for wading, stones and pebbles for collecting to pieces of wood for building, natural resources provide endless options for children to learn through play.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Reggio Emilia Approach or to find an early learning centre near you that understands the benefits and value of natural play environments for children, get in touch with Early Learning & Kinder at www.earlylearningandkinder.com.au or emailing info@earlylearningandkinder.com.au

Early Learning & Kinder operate a number of highly sought-after early learning centres across Australia and their friendly team would be delighted to chat about their approach and why they believe in the benefits of the natural environment for play-based learning.    Their schools combine the Reggio Emilia Approach with the Government’s Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards to provide families with the very best in child care and early education.

* http://www.riotinto.com/documents/171214_Rio_Tinto_Naturescape_Kings_Park_reopens_after__3_million_upgrade.pdf

** https://www.bgpa.wa.gov.au/about-us/information/news/2474-rio-tinto-naturescape