Officrèche Blog

Guest Post: The Importance of Outdoor Play

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I hate to see single use toys.  You know the kind of thing; a café set or treehouse with figures in that can be just that.  We have them, but they seem such a waste of resources and imagination.  I much prefer lego (or some-such) that might come presented as a café, but can be converted into a magic wizards café or a starship, a school or whatever your amazing brain can come up with.

The best toys of course, are not toys at all, but something converted using creativity and imagination.  The biggest hit in our house this Christmas (despite all the money spent on plastic) was the handful of screws, a stubby screwdriver and a load of cardboard boxes and ice-cream tubs.  Both children spent hours ‘making’ with this slightly risky set-up.    Miss K loved it so much, she pronounced her ambition to ditch the storytelling career and attend ‘screw-school’.  Now there’s one to explain to granny.

However, it’s when we’re out and about, away from all the toys, colouring books, kits and sets, that we really see the girls applying their artistic licence to the stuff around them.

Quite apart from vitamin D and exercise, which we NEED, the outside world is amazing and full of ‘toys’, dens, ideas and inspiration.

It’s important to get your kids out and about as often as you can, for lots of reasons, from improving their concentration to building communities and of course for the health benefits.  It’s all covered in this excellent article from loveoutdoorplay.

But it’s not always easy or practical.  Despite living with me (and Wildplay) my girls are not particularly ‘outdoorsy’. They are creative though, and love nature, science and being detectives.  So we signed them up to the Woodland trust’s wonderful Nature Detectives.

On Sunday we went on a nature hunt through Stanmer Park (after a gorgeous lunch at the house).  Armed with our magnifying classes and notebooks, we found all sorts of lovely stuff from fungi and poo to millipedes.  We kept a photo scrapbook of our finds.  Along the way, we found a fairy house a natural seat and lots and lots of sticks, all of which we took time out to play with.

I do often ‘set the stage’ for my kid’s games, but am quick to drop out too, as they need to play undirected.  They need to scuff a knee to learn about dangers and risks.  It’s important they find their own rules and frameworks, establishing fairness amongst themselves.  This is the stuff that makes the grown-ups.  The leaders, facilitators, engineers and negotiators.  Without it, we cannot become responsible, reliable, reasonable adults.

In an ideal world we would play in a big, group, outdoor session, with parents around but not involved, in a space like Stanmer, where the kids can roam (within reason).  Where they can feel a little independence, be creative and find a little ‘flow’.  I see it really working when they are making something together.  A mud pie shop or a dam, or leaf potions for sale.  They really get into it, using natural props to model grown-ups ‘work’.

I don’t feel guilty about having telly, or colouring books, or single-use toys.  But I do try to get my kids out and about when I can, even just up to the local park.  I might have to coax and inspire to get them there.  I might facilitate it with ideas, a poster or a club.  I’ve even been known to bribe ‘em!  But it’s the stuff that makes the person, and indeed the memories, and it’s so, so very valuable.


This post was written by Nancy Carter – you can find her on twitter as @nancyrcarter

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