Play-based learning in nature

Nature-based learning is an excellent way to connect with the world outside and gain a lifelong appreciation for nature. Wild Wonder programs take children outside and allow them to explore the world around them, to see the beauty in their surroundings, and to appreciate all that nature has to offer. Forest school programs are based upon regular and repeated access to a natural space. Play is the means through which child-directed, place-based learning and discovery occur. Children are provided with opportunities to build an ongoing relationship with the land, to a dedicated educator, to one another, and to themselves. Hands-on experiences in nature are invaluable in learning, in holistic development, and in building a sense of one’s place in the world.

Supported by reseach

As passionate teachers and environmental educators, we at Wild Wonder know the value of nature-based education in setting a positive foundation for environmental literacy, childhood development, and school readiness. Studies show that forest school-style programs yield incredible benefits for children and support childhood development on many levels. The value of providing children extensive time to play and explore outdoors in all seasons is supported by extensive research. More time outdoors is beneficial for physical, emotional and mental well-being, but children spend less time outside these days than ever before, to their detriment (Louv, 2005). The evidence is particularly strong for positive associations between experiences in natural environments and mental health benefits (Pearson and Craig, 2014). It appears that contact with natural environments promotes psychological restoration (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989), improved mood (Barton & Pretty, 2010; Hartig et al., 2003), improved attention (Hartig et al., 2003) and reduced stress and anxiety (Ulrich et al., 1991). In Japan, a study exploring the effect of a green space intervention has shown that forest environments can promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, when compared to city environments (Park et al., 2007, 2010).

There is vast evidence that shows the need for more risky play in childhood, not less (e.g. Brussoni et al, 2012; Beate and Sandester, 2011, Guldberg, 2009). According to the Government of Canada (2011) “between 1978 and 2004, rates of measured obesity almost tripled among Canadian children and youth” (Government of Canada, 2011). ParticipACTION recommended in their 2015 Report Card that the biggest risk to children’s health and safety is keeping them indoors and that outdoor play, with all of it’s supposed risks, is better for kids in the long-term (Participaction, 2015). Research from UBC and the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital shows that risky outdoor play is not only good for children’s health but also encourages creativity, social skills and resilience (Came, 2015; O'Brien and Murray, 2006). In fact, according to Brussoni et al. (2012), keeping children safe involves letting them take and manage risks. Playgrounds that offer natural elements such as trees and plants, changes in height, and freedom for children to engage in activities of their own choosing, have positive impacts on health, behaviour and social development (Ethier, 1999).

Our Resources Page has many informative articles and links about the benefits of Forest School!

Scroll through some of the photos from the Wild Wonder Pilot Program held at Beech Hill Park in the summer of 2017. We had a wonderful time!