Never mind the mess!


Further education and training for both early childhood educators and parents could help them become better enablers of messy and risky nature play, an Australian study suggests.

Parents and educators recognise the benefits of nature play but despite this, many try to dissuade children from play which is perceived as risky or messy, research from Australia shows.

Climbing trees, making mud pies, or simply playing outside, parents and educators know that being in nature is an important part of every childhood. But when it comes to messy or risky play, it’s a whole different story according to new research from the University of South Australia.

Talking to parents and early childhood educators, researchers found that parents and educators will happily open the door to ‘safe’ or ‘clean’ nature play but are more reluctant to let children engage in ‘messy’ activities or play that may be perceived as ‘risky’.

UniSA researcher and PhD candidate Kylie Dankiw says that parents and educators act 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, “and this was a common theme when interviewing parents and carers alike.

“Nature play helps improve emotional regulation, physical skills, and learning outcomes, and can encourage children to develop their creativity and imagination.

“Parents and educators also identified that nature play can help children form a connection with the natural world and learn about sustainable practices.

“Importantly, parents and carers felt that nature play experiences could be used to offset technology use such as TV and screens.

“But despite the known benefits, parents and carers can find it difficult when it comes to engaging children in nature play, especially if activities are messy or dirty (such as water or mud play) or are thought of as being risky (such as climbing).

“Educators tell us that safety regulations and time restrictions can limit what they choose as outdoor activities, especially when they need to change children’s clothes after muddy play, or when parents expect for their child to come home clean from childcare.

“There can be a conflict between encouraging children to experience nature, and what adults need to deal with in the so-called aftermath.”

More here

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