Learning in Nature

For young children, learning in nature can take place without an extensive collection of specific outdoor equipment and resources. In order for children to play and learn through nature play, they just need space, time and adults who are able to support them to take risks. When children have the opportunity to explore nature, they are able to lead their own play and have a voice in the learning process.

This can be easier said than done though right? Where do you start? What do you do? What don’t you do? Whether you are an educator or a parent, here are 5 tips to help you embrace nature play with young children.

Get outside, just go!

You don’t have to plan, you don’t have to overthink, you don’t have to have a structured activity. In fact, it’s even better NOT to have a structured activity or something in mind. Learning in nature is fun and some of the most magical moments can be very simple, small things. Like when you allow a child to jump in a puddle instead of saying no.

Trust the children.

It is a natural instinct for us to want to keep children as safe as possible and protect them from injury or harm. What this means and what it can look like is not necessarily what you imagine. It could be as easy as encouraging children to be more adventurous with their nature play. When they want to climb up a tree or jump off a stump into a pile of leaves. Try to be conscious of letting children see where their challenges take them. NOTE: There are obvious exceptions to this tip! If you see a child climbing a broken branch, or wanting to navigate a stream of water or another dangerous situation, we recommend stepping in and keeping the child safe!

young boy walking on a nature trail


Check how YOU are feeling!

This one is for parents. An extension of tip #2, if you aren’t feeling like you are ready to encourage your child to take extra risks, reflect on this and ask yourself why you feel this way. Is it reasonable that you’re finding it hard to trust your child at that moment? If you need a little bit of support, then ask for that support and find some like-minded friends who will support you in that journey. The same goes for educators. If you find it hard to trust children to assess their capabilities when it comes to taking risks, reflect on why this may be. Have you witnessed a child fall from a great height? Were you injured playing in nature as a child? Are you concerned that parents won’t approve? Often you will find that if you think about this on a deeper level, you will uncover your reasons and then work on this at a deeper level. 

Find some friends to play with!

Another one for parents.  How could you connect with other adults who are really keen to also play with their children outdoors in an unstructured way? Playing outdoors and supporting your child to play outdoors is a lot easier when there are lots of other children also playing outside. Just a few generations ago, there were children out playing on the streets, teaching each other about risk, playing new games and just out there having fun. Recreating this with “nature play dates” will make your outdoor adventures more fun for both your child AND you!

young children building a fort in nature

Accept that children will at times be uncomfortable.

It won’t always be sunshine and big smiles though! There will be times where children are not happy outside. That doesn’t mean they don’t like nature, and it doesn’t mean that you should NOT take them outside to play. Children can become uncomfortable for a number of reasons, they may feel cold or they may have fallen over. It may go against all of your natural instincts, but it is really important for children to be uncomfortable at times. It’s important for them to feel the cold, and to feel the change of seasons. It’s really important that we keep taking them out and offer them experiences of learning in nature. Remember that as well as times of children feeling uncomfortable, there will be times of joy, excitement, curiosity and wonder. This is like the full experience of life, and it gives children the freedom to experience a full range of feelings and emotions. It is our job to give children space to have this full experience


For more inspiration about nature play and forest schools, check out our interview with Marlene Power from the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada.

Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya was born in Lower Hutt and went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone Kindergarten. A qualified ECE, she studied at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked with home-based educators, in community-based childcare and in kindergarten. With childhood memories of reading books and writing stories, combined with her passion for all things social media, Sonya segued into her role with us at Storypark as social media manager.

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  1. […] There are some really easy things that educators, parents and caregivers can do to support children’s outdoor play based on these three key ingredients.  […]


  2. Irena Lawrenson January 2, 2024 at 9:50 pm

    Disappointed that you do not provide an option to email or text this item. Only fb, Twitter (but shouldn’t that now be x?) TikTok, etc.


    1. Hi Irena – we are using an external social media plugin to provide those sharing options, so we are limited by what they offer. Unfortunately the plugin doesn’t have email or text options. You can however copy the URL and share that over email or text if you’d like.


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