The benefits of nature play have been known for many years, but more recently evidence-based research is documenting groups of children that have matriculated through early childhood programs and are able to display the real benefits daily exposure to nature contributed to their physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. See notes at the end of this article for links to research confirming our passion for keeping outdoor play a part of the daily life of children.
Problem solving & Critical Thinking: The child-led method of forest schools and nature play in general promotes independent thinking as children create their own projects, encounter problems within their designs, and then use critical thinking to resolve the design to make it efficient. This process occurs multiple times an hour during a typical day, allowing those neural pathways plenty of practice to strengthen as they develop.
Creative & Divergent Thinking: So many classroom-based projects are close-ended, not by design, but by the practical limitations of the physical environment. When the natural world is your classroom, there is enough space to think not only “outside-the-box” but outside-the-walls. Ideas that might have been seen as divergent (even impossible) within a traditional setting now become serendipitous.
Increased Knowledge Base: If you are thinking, “but they’ll only learn about nature…” please stop and realize that by observing nature we can learn the following disciplines: aeronautics, agriculture, arithmetic, art, astronomy, biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, geography, history, physics, and so many more.
Communication Skills: As all of these benefits are exercised over and over again in the course of just one hour in nature play, children are communicating their thoughts, ideas, and even disputes with one another. They learn to debate the merits of one course of action over another, and then to perhaps negate that hypothesis and return to they drawing board as a collective. Civil discourse is still alive in nature play and the forest school environment!
Special thanks to Jean Lomino at the Forest Teacher Institute whose contributed to the resourcing and development of this article.
Articles for Further Study:
Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature, Child Mind Institute.
Nurtured by Nature, American Psychological Association.
Six Ways Nature Helps Children Learn, Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley.
Why Naturalize Outdoor Learning Environments? Natural Learning Initiative, North Carolina State University.
Nature-Based Education and Kindergarten Readiness: Nature-Based and Traditional Preschoolers are Equally Prepared for Kindergarten, The International Journal of Early Childhood Education.