Out to Play Mini-Blogs – Blog 2: Nature Connection

Written by Saffron Gillies.

Welcome to the second in our series of four ‘Out to Play Mini-Blogs – An imaginative approach to outdoor play & learning in the early years’! Between August 2022 and March 2023 I’ll be working with 18 Early Years settings across Glasgow on our Out to Play Mini-Residencies programme, following the success of this strand of the project in spring 2022.

To accompany the Mini-Residencies, I’ll be writing a series of Mini-Blogs designed to give early years practitioners a bite-sized introduction to the Out to Play project, and some quick, practical tips to try out in your own setting.

In late Autumn 2022 I had the opportunity to deliver Mini-Residencies at FAREPlay Nursery, Fasque Family Centre, Nithsdale Road Nursery and Pride and Joy Nursery. In this Mini-Blog, I’ll focus on Nature Connection, explaining what it means and giving some tips on how to promote it, drawing on examples from my time in these settings.

Name something from our natural world that makes you say ‘WOW!’

I often ask the practitioners I’m working with if they can recall a moment from their childhood in which they felt connected to nature – more often than not they will remember times spent playing unsupervised. As such, our experiences can feel far away from those of the children we work with today. We must ask ourselves, if children today are missing out on opportunities to connect with nature as they learn and grow, will they want to care for it as they grow up? Through the Out to Play project we hope to offer children the chance to connect with nature, noticing the wonders of the world all around us. We hope that by fostering a love of our world from an early age, children will grow up aware of their relationship with our planet, and want to care for it.

What is Nature Connection?

Nature Connection means having a sense of our relationship with the natural world – nature is all around us, and we are part of nature. We can look after nature and treat it with kindness. Our senses and imaginations can be great tools for developing this connection.

Some Example Activities/Ideas:

Get hands on

Exploring simple nature objects like seeds, vegetables, soil, feathers, nesting materials and seashells can be a great way to connect with nature. Passing these objects around allows us get curious about our world, and we can begin to think about caring for it. For example, in this round of Mini-Residencies I asked children to hold an egg (supported by our imaginations as it was a prop egg, not a real one!). I asked them to treat it with care as there could be a baby chick inside, and we discussed how we might look after it, what it might need, and how birds look after their young. At FAREPlay, staff used a water spray bottle to allow children to explore the effects of water on different materials, a brilliant way to combine a bit of science with nature connection!

Play in all weathers

The changing of the weather and seasons plays an important role in the health of our planet, and yet, the rain and cold can be a significant barrier to getting outside. If we can support children to enjoy and embrace all weather types, and work towards understanding why they are important, we can heighten our relationship with our world, rather than creating a barrier between ourselves and the outdoors when the weather is dreich! For example, at Fasque Family Centre we got very, VERY muddy in week 2, and in week 3 staff members supported the children to play freely in large puddles – lots of fun was had! Meanwhile at Nithsdale Road Nursery staff and children came out to play in what can only be described as torrential rain in week 1! This can be challenging, but building up our tolerance for different weather conditions can be really rewarding.

Playing in a Huge Puddle!

Make the most of what you’ve got

Our imaginations can take us anywhere in the world, and, supported by props and materials we can connect with all aspects of nature, even when we don’t have immediate access to them (staff at Pride and Joy Nursery had the idea of using pumice stone to represent a meteor!). However, starting with what you do have around you can be a great way to begin establishing our connection to nature. You could listen to the sound of birds singing, hunt for mini-beats, or feel the textures of trees. At Nithsdale Road Nursery staff worked together to plan a session which explored the leaf and log piles they had in their garden, and children learned that they were there to provide homes for creatures. The children then helped to make these homes even bigger and cosier by finding more materials to add to them – what a lovely, rewarding activity.

Sticks and Leaves

I’ll finish with some photographs from the past few weeks, some from my sessions, and some from sessions delivered by the staff at FAREPlay Nursery, Fasque Family Centre, Nithsdale Road Nursery and Pride and Joy Nursery. And of course, I must say a huge thank you to all staff and children who took part!

Look out for my next Mini-Blog, early next year, which will explore the art of storytelling.