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It’s no secret that our grandchildren lack adequate outdoor play experiences. What used to be normal, everyday outdoor play has been substituted with hours and hours of screen time or, adult-run team sports. Even play at the park is usually spent on man-made metal and plastic structures.

But studies show that children benefit from playing in natural settings. In Japan there’s a practice called Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing. Both adults and children take time to enjoy the energy and clean air of a natural setting and just enjoy it. They explore, build, create or merely sit in the natural setting and allow the stresses of life to melt away. The results of these nature-rich experiences are reduced levels of stress, and an improvement in happiness and creativity.

But where are the trees, underbrush, rocks, streams and fields in which today’s children can explore and imagine? The answer is: they’re popping up everywhere. As adults realize the need for their children to play in natural settings, sterile playgrounds are being transformed into nature playgrounds using rocks, trees, logs, streams and other natural elements. With a minimum of expense natural settings are put in place to enjoy.

Of course, you may live in an area where you can find natural settings to explore with the grandkids and never need to search out a more urban setting or natural play areas. If so, you’re ahead of the game. 

The results of playing in these natural play spaces has produced happy results. Researchers say that when children play and learn in nature they do so with more engagement, imagination and cooperation than in more artificial settings. It’s as if nature provides kids with many of the same benefits as a healthy diet or enough sleep. It’s good for them.

While you’re thinking of natural settings to visit with the grandkids, here are some of the benefits of nature play:

  • Physical benefits such as stronger muscles, a boosted immune system, increased balance, lower risk of obesity and improved energy levels.
  • Emotional and social benefits such as increased thinking skills, ability to focus on a task, reduced anger or acting out behaviors, improved self-confidence and self-management skills.
  • Stronger character traits such as creativity, imagination, appreciation for the environment, a willingness to experiment and try new things, increased satisfaction and joy and more empathy and kindness shown to others.

Getting started with nature play is easy. Begin with simple natural objects that you may even find in your own back yard such as sticks, branches, straw bales, cardboard boxes, rope, tarps, pinecones and the like. You’ll be surprised that as the adult you won’t have to tell your grandchildren what to do or play. They’ll begin to create on their own when given the materials. You may find your home graced with collections of rocks or leaves organized in some manner, or you may enjoy stories of the fairies and their homes in the tree stumps. 

Don’t forget that water play is always a favorite with children and if you end up with a bit of mud, that is all the better. When searching out natural settings in your neighborhood begin with local parks and the fringe areas surrounding the usual play structures. Entrance areas to hiking trails or areas nearby your local zoo or museum are also good places to look. Schools and public lands may provide the perfect natural setting for you and your grandkids.

You’ll find that time spent in natural settings is healthy and fun for both you and your grandchildren.