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Educational Helps | 3 Minutes

Educational Helps: "Nature Play Dates" With Your Students

Lexi Detweiler Written by Lexi Detweiler
Educational Helps: "Nature Play Dates" With Your Students

During the school year my kids belonged to a Nature Play Group. Every Tuesday morning, we’d meet up with other like-minded homeschoolers at the creek to play and explore. There could be anywhere from three to 20 kids. There were no rules (besides our underlying moral compasses) and no time limit. The mothers were merely there to supply snacks and bandage scraped knees. We left the creative play up to the kids. 

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so we brought Barbies and books and other toys to Nature Play Group. But no, it wasn’t just a change of scenery, the kids were immersing themselves in nature. Sometimes I’d have to nudge the kids back to nature if they were starting to hang around me, but once they found an activity or a playmate, they were in their own world. It was awesome to see their ingenuity when building forts out of tree limbs and brush. Or their courage when crossing the stream for the first time on their own. Or their carefulness when building a whole habitat for freshwater clam. I was even impressed by their conflict resolution and negotiating skills when discussing rules for play.

I understand that as a mother it might be hard to step back and “let them figure it out.” Trust me, it’s hard for me. I like to be in control and I hate conflict. But watching them grow and learn to work with others at Nature Play Group was worth biting my tongue the handful of times I wanted to step in. I know even I learned a lot from the other moms in the group. Like that I needed to give my kids some credit. Yes, they are still learning to control their impulses and emotions, but kids are creative, they seek fairness, they are resourceful. It was a weight that had been lifted off of me when I realized this. 

As with most new habits, it’s hard to get started, so I’ve come up with a list of some simple nature play ideas. All you need to do is present the idea to the kids, step back and watch what they do with it. Easier said than done sometimes, but well worth it. 

Ideas for Nature Play: 

  1. Build a Fort - Tree limbs leaned against a tree work really well, but if you don’t have that, use what you’ve got: pine branches, sticks, palm leaves, rocks, mud…
  2. Leaf Rubbings - Search for interesting leaves then place a white piece of paper over top and rub a crayon over it to reveal the pattern of the leaf.
  3. Mud Kitchen - This is an idea that I have an unnecessary amount of pins about, but it’s essentially a kids play kitchen outdoors with real kitchen tools for creating mud pies, grass soups, and more. 
  4. Paint Rocks - There are so many cute ideas for this but let them come up with their own. They could make rock pets, garden decorations, play food, tic-tac-toe pieces, etc.
  5. Make Stick People - Tie or glue together sticks in the form of people, dress them with leaves, use grass for hair, seed casings for faces--get creative!
  6. Build a Boat - This is a great lesson in buoyancy, find materials in nature to build a raft or sailboat that actually floats.
  7. Make a Nature Collage - You can start with a template, like a tree, then use double sided tape (works better than glue) to stick leaves, petals, grass, etc to the paper to create your own living art.