By Amanda Murthy
A gentle reminder to the more youthful generation to appreciate the fruitfulness of outdoor physical activity is being realised thanks to the many nature playgrounds popping in Catholic primary schools over the past few years.
An excellent example of this is the purpose built unstructured playground at Ursula Frayne Catholic College in Victoria Park, which has benefitted students in a myriad of ways, according to Assistant Principal Veronica Parker.
“Nature play was a direct result of families in our community recognising the need to allow their children to engage in unstructured play in a beautiful natural setting, and the parents of our students came together to fund it for their children,” she explained.
Mrs Parker went on to say that there is a great scope in the WA curriculum for learning outdoors and the natural environment can support the learning program.
“These can be both structured and unstructured opportunities. Nature playtime is fundamental to learning where students can collaborate together, communicate, assess risks and problem solve in an environment that stimulates little minds, which is exactly what we do at our school,” she cited.
Ms Parker explained that the school’s ultimate goal was to encourage students to connect with the earth, as this will enable them to be stewards of creation as they grow into exemplary young men and women.
“We want our kids to be kids, we want our students to get their feet wet, to make mud pies and to sit on the ground in yarning circles,” Ms Parker said. “These simple pleasures are fundamental to a full and healthy childhood.”
According to Nature Play WA, encouraging young people of today to be surrounded by nature, run around, explore trees, build cubby houses, further developing their physical, social, health, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing, is not just ‘good’ for a child, but necessary.
The not-for-profit association was established back in 2010 with the aim of bringing children together to learn, grow, and appreciate the beauty of nature, through various events and resources.
Chief Executive Officer and founder of Nature Play Griffin Longley shared what inspired him to start the program, lending an insight to some of the experiences he gained along the way.
“I am a father of two children (now aged 19 and 20) and I grew up very much a free-range kid – but it wasn’t until I worked as a columnist for a local newspaper that I found myself becoming increasingly aware about the extreme changes in the experiences of childhood I witnessed around me, mainly through observation or research related to my work assignments,” Mr Longley explained.
“One observation was that an increasingly significant number of children, particularly in recent years, are choosing to spend their play time on what is famously known as `screen time’, which includes watching television, playing video games or browsing through social media.
“Free play is one of the great human inheritances and one that I wasn’t willing to see squandered in the name of technology,” he added.
Since then Nature Play has expanded to Queensland, ACT and South Australia, and now involves 46 WA Catholic schools to in its Outdoor Classroom Day.
“When we first started, many questioned the need for an organisation like Nature Play, as they assumed that playing outdoors was something that kid’s did anyway – sadly, that wasn’t the case and eventually parents started realising that their kids were missing out.”
“Our challenge, as promoters of outdoor play, is to see where we can use technology to help connect families to play and our apps are just some of the ways we do that.”
Mr Longley added that he hopes that Nature Play will continue to grow and spread the message that physical activity is fundamental to wellbeing, happiness and healthy development for children
“Research shows us that kids who miss out on it area at greater risk of non-communicable diseases, mental health disorders. But of course play is about much more than physical activity, it is also the ground in which creativity grows and friendships take root,” he concluded.
From pages 14 to 15 of Issue 18: ‘Teaching and Learning’ of The Record Magazine