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Parents influence how children engage in nature play

A new study highlights the importance of parents letting children engage in messy nature play

A new study highlights the importance of messy nature play.
A new study highlights the importance of messy nature play. (AFP)

From climbing trees, making tree houses, and creating sandcastles at the beach to just playing outside, engaging with nature has several important benefits, which previous research has shown. A new study highlights that while parents encourage nature play, they pull their children back when it gets messy.

A new study led by researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) shows that while parents and educators are on board with the idea of nature-related activities, their enthusiasm is limited to ‘clean’ play. They are reluctant to let their children participate in activities perceived as messy or risky, according to a press statement by UniSA.

Also read: Two books that promise to connect children with nature

UniSA researcher and PhD candidate Kylie Dankiw describes parents as “important gatekeepers” when it comes to nature play. “Nature play is well known for its positive effects on children’s health, development, and wellbeing,” Dankiw says in the statement, “and this was a common theme when interviewing parents and carers alike.

Dankiw adds that nature play helps in improving emotional regulation, physical skills, and learning outcomes and promotes creativity and imagination. Notably, it can also help children develop a connection with nature and develop sustainable practices.

While parents are aware of these benefits, they are reluctant to let children engage in activities such as playing in water or mud or climbing, which is considered risky. Dankiw elaborates that there is a conflict between encouraging children to engage with nature but also dealing with what comes after.

Last year, in a previous study by UniSA, researchers said while teachers believe nature play positively impacts children, they lack knowledge of how to link nature play areas to the curriculum and learning. The study highlighted that 98% of the teachers who participated in the survey of 50 Australian schools stated that the mental health of children who engaged in nature play was better than those who didn't, and it improved cognitive development in 96% of children.

As there is a widespread concern that children are hooked to devices and are not spending their time offline engaging with their environments, nature play is gaining more importance than ever.

Some of the local activities that children can enjoy include painting pottery at Bistro Claytopia in Bangalore or group reading sessions across India started by Cubbon Reads.

Also read: A reading community in Bengaluru rooted in silence and safety

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