Kiddipedia

Kiddipedia

Media kindly brought to you by Plum Play 

Take the modern world’s increasing amount of ‘screen time’, urban living arrangements that limit access to green spaces, throw in a pandemic with enforced home lockdowns, and it’s no surprise that kids’ participation in outdoor play is on the decline. In fact, there is a growing global movement to reconnect children with the natural world to reap its many benefits for physical and psycho-social development. 

Child development experts agree that “the availability of natural outdoor environments and the time that children spend in them have been associated with increased self-esteem, quality of life, respiratory health, physical activity, and lower body mass index” (source). As Australian families take the next step towards a post-pandemic world, now is the perfect opportunity to establish or strengthen your child’s relationship with nature through outdoor play experiences. But what are the best ways to get your child energised about unlocking the treasures of the natural world?

Naturally, we asked our friends at Plum Play, the Active Play Specialists, who are driven by a mission for active play that inspires thinking, creativity, imagination, understanding, and most of all, fun! Plum Play knows first-hand the transformative effect of nature on children, reflected in their interactive range of quality outdoor playsets and toys, climbing frames, swings and slides, and much more. Let’s canvass the ways in which parents can provide nature-based play opportunities and how Plum Play can help.

Getting out in the garden to grow plants

Plants are an important marker in a child’s introduction to ecosystems and the lifecycle of organisms that sustain life on Earth. Experts explain this relationship as children adopting a ‘caretaker role’ in watching living things grow, die, and the process of renewal (source). Therefore, giving your child the opportunity to care for plants instils a sense of responsibility and self-awareness.

Compared to caring for inanimate objects such as dolls, plants help children transition from make-believe experiences to real-world scenarios with real consequences. Forget to water the plants, and they’ll see them wither; remember to water on time and enjoy their blooms! Furthermore, if you grow vegetables, involving your child can help them develop a healthy relationship with food and anchor them to ideas of self-sufficiency. This learning through play can cement lifelong values of conservation and sustainability, and you may even inspire a budding horticulturalist!

To get started, make sure to designate their own section of the garden bed, or a pot or planter box. Provided they’re non-toxic, there is no right or wrong choice of plants, however, plants that are larger and brightly coloured tend to appeal to children most. You’ll also want to opt for some fast-growing plants to sustain their interest – particularly for younger children with shorter attention spans. The Better Health Channel recommends growing plants that stimulate children’s senses and also qualify for sensory play:

  • For sight (bright colours), try: daffodils, marigolds, pansies, sunflowers
  • For touch, try: woolly lamb’s ear, succulents (including aloe vera), natives such as banksia and bottlebrush
  • For taste, try: basil, strawberries, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes
  • For smell, try: jasmine, lavender, rosemary, sweet pea and lemon balm

(Source)

 

 

‘Organic cooking’ with natural elements

Speaking of sensory play, another activity that captivates children outdoors is sourcing materials to mimic the culinary creations they see mum and dad making in the kitchen! The ‘mud pie’ is a staple of many childhoods, and for good reason. Experimentation is the aim of the game here, and the malleability of mud as a natural and inexpensive ‘ingredient’, means kids can create to their heart’s content, without messing up the family kitchen or wasting real food. Experts agree that mud play facilitates gross motor skills – for example when pulling on gumboots and squelching into it, and also supports fine motor development – such as moulding it into shapes and patting it down using the hands and fingers (source).

Once the foundation is laid with this base ingredient, you may be surprised by kids’ ingenuity in seeking out differently textured elements such as sand for icing or leaves and pebbles as a garnish – in the process, accruing knowledge about characteristics of their environment. When given utensils to apply their ingredients in realistic ways, such ‘food prep’ is also a stepping stone to real-world cooking, allowing them to develop skills of patience and precision they’ll soon require.

Tops tips for nature-based cooking:

  • Supply a dedicated, sturdy workspace for kids as a canvas to help bring their ideas to life and build anticipation.
  • Provide accessories to make the experience more realistic such as funnels and plastic jugs to pour water, measuring cups to introduce them to ingredient quantities, and a whisk and a spatula for mixing and levelling out their mud ‘batter’.
  • Encourage use of a variety of different organic materials and textures such as flower petals, leaves, moss, shells and pebbles, to make their mud pies more appetising.
  • Relax! Parents can be uncomfortable about the prospect of a mess, and kids will sense your tension. Remember that messy play is beneficial for kids, and you can rest assured that mud is generally completely safe with basic supervision.

The unstructured play offered by nature is liberating for kids, but there is no question that props or accessories serve to enhance outdoor play by spurring their imagination and providing a more authentic role-modelling of behaviours, such as cooking. Plum Play’s ‘Mud Pie Kitchen’ is a fully equipped playset with all the bells and whistles to nurture your child’s imagination while keeping things organised.

Outdoor playsets and activity tables

Many families with toddlers and school-aged children have activity bins or craft boxes to keep them entertained and self-sufficient during their indoor play, but have you got an outdoor equivalent to help channel kids’ natural exploration? Spending time away from home in different wilderness settings is not always feasible nor desired, and creating the right conditions in the backyard is a sure-fire way to continue nature-based and sensory learning at home.

Just as a well-equipped desk aids adults in their work, a functional space is just as important for kids to conduct the work of play! By allowing kids a space that is distinctly ‘theirs’ by personalising it and watching it take shape, it can also provide guidance and inspiration for children to seize the potential of unstructured play. In addition to the mud play we explored earlier, two other crucial natural elements that kids need frequent exposure to are sand and water. This magical pairing can teach kids to distinguish between liquids and solids, how they affect one another and the concepts volume and capacity.

With most families not having immediate or daily access to the beach, sand and water-based activity tables are an excellent tool for kids to experiment and gain a practical understanding of how the environment works through science. Opting for more open-ended activity tables that provide the framework but an otherwise blank canvas, prompts children to run wild with their imagination and helps foster skills of self-determination, creativity and problem-solving, to name a few. In fact, recent research has recommended that children experience ‘twice as much’ unstructured play than structured play experiences (source) – and nature’s playground is the ideal place to do it.

Looking for a safe and engaging outlet for your child to make some outdoor discoveries? Check out Plum Play’s sand and water activity tables for maximum sensory fun and why not try the new Create & Paint Easel? Learn how it incorporates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) principles that will become pivotal in later childhood, here.

A perfect gift for the holiday season – the Plum Play Nature Play Hideaway Playset

As part of a new product collection released just in time for the holiday season, the Nature Play Hideaway Cubby by Plum Play is the ultimate nature-based play experience for toddlers and school-aged children. It incorporates the sensory and unstructured play dimensions discussed above, to instil a lifelong appreciation of nature. Ethically sourced with high-quality construction, it’s a playset your family can enjoy for years to come.

Why kids (and parents) will love the Plum Play Nature Play Hideaway cubby:

  • Hide in the cosy cubby, pull the fabric door cover down and pretend away
  • Cook up some tasty delights at the little prep area for everyone to enjoy
  • Get digging and create your own array of flowers and herbs in the built-in rectangle planter
  • The working gutter and water bottle rack will encourage your little ones to learn about ecosystems and think about different ways to nurture their plants
  • A beautiful solid wood letter box is built in so all the secret notes can be posted to the hideaway den
  • Create a masterpiece on the easy clean painting screen and unleash the inner artist.
  • Wooden chimes dangle just outside the door entrance to provide soothing musical tunes
  • Made from FSC® sustainably sourced wood to love your environment.

Learn more and explore the full Plum Play range on their website.