Nature Play Activities For Toddlers: From A Family Support Practitioner
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“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better”- Albert Einstein
Exploring nature with young children is something I find great pleasure in. I truly believe that children can investigate the outdoor world at any age and expensive resources and wide open spaces aren’t necessarily needed. Let me introduce myself a little, my name is Katie and I run @the_play_adventures_ over on Instagram, where I share inspiration and ideas for play, including nature play activities for toddlers, babies and children . I currently work as a family support practitioner in a children’s centre and a part time nanny to 4 children.
I am believer that no matter what your age you should spend time outside in a variety of weathers. In my groups I very often have young babies attend, I set up these seasonal treasure baskets for them to explore. A mixture of textures and colours invites the babies to investigate and learn. They’re perfect for problem solving, language development and understanding the world. For smaller babies who aren’t yet mobile or sitting, watching the trees sway in the breeze, the clouds move in the sky or even dipping their toes in the mud.
I love using playdough in our sessions. I use a salt less recipe that is wildlife and baby safe. This means that natural play for toddlers and children can be enjoyed independently and safely. This dough pictured was made using leftover rose petals which left a beautiful scent and then I provided a variety of items for the children to mark make with.
The lovely thing is with playdough being so open ended the opportunities for creativity and imagination are endless. I try to incorporate “real” resources as much possible adding a deeper learning to the activity.
My recipe is:
- 1 cup of plain flour
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup of hot water
To this, dough food colouring, eco glitter or flower petals can be added the only limitation is your imagination!
Process art is so beautiful and rewarding for young children to be involved in they learn cause and effect, practise Mark making and physical development. One of my favourites is Hapa Zome the Japanese art of leaf bashing!! One of the best things about nature play for toddlers is that we all know they love to bash and hammer, this was a super simple set up, leaves forged from the site we use, wild flowers and wilting roses from home. Sandwiched between two bits of fabric and hammered using the mallet. they release their natural dyes and create beautiful patterns. the children loved watching the the colours appear and this process art uses both fine and gross motor skills. It is also very therapeutic to hammer and bash the leaves!!
Using the hammer, apple corer and other real tools in our play is just one of the ways I try to use risky play, I encourage the children to use their risky play to challenge themselves and problem solve. Often a pause to assess risk versus benefit, helps me decide what to try with the toddlers in my sessions. More often than not the reward of balancing on the log, development of Hand-eye coordination and sense of pride outweigh the risks of falling from the low log. I try to use comments and phrases such as “do you feel safe?” “You’re trying really hard to balance and be safe”, instead of worrying statements like “be careful.” Of course, whilst always being mindful of everyone’s health and safety.
We love to create artwork using nature, sometimes simply collecting treasure and making patterns with your findings, leaf rubbing or painting using brushes made from twigs, feathers and other treasures! Art with nature gives children the opportunity to explore using all their senses And Using nature to make art means you can bring nature into your homes too! Collages, Leaf monsters mud painting are all things we’ve created during a muddy buddies outdoor session.
Sometimes you need no resources at all to come up with fun nature play for toddlers, just an open space and time on your hands, i love taking my nanny children for walks through the forest or countryside collecting as we go, it’s amazing to see what the children see as treasure. This walk we found snail shells, crab apples, pines and magic wand sticks!! my pockets are often full with items collected on one of our walks!
Working in a town centre based setting, I appreciate that not everyone has access to a garden or wide open spaces, however I don’t think it’s impossible for those children to connect with nature. Small pots to grow vegetables, fruit or flowers can be grown on windowsills or even the smallest balcony. Walks through town or City centres you can spot birds, trees and flowers.
I hope that this has inspired you to venture outside more with your children, if you feel overwhelmed by where to start I always suggest just going outside, looking around you and observing what you see, hear and smell. Use the seasons or weather to inspire you and your little ones. And most of all have fun, splash in those puddles and climb that tree (you’re never too old!)