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What is nature play?

Nature Play is unstructured play in natural areas. Nature play is open-ended, free exploration and recreation without interruptive adult regulation. Many grown-ups will remember nature play as simply their quintessential childhood experience. Today, many factors prevent children from enjoying unstructured time outdoors. Bok Tower Gardens’ Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden offers a safe place for exploration with many opportunities for young children to connect with nature.

Why is nature play important?

There is a growing body of research data about the multiple positive impacts of nature play on children’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being. Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, details these benefits. Children are smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.

quote-25pxThe outdoors, especially diverse natural environments with varied plants and landscapes, invites children to act on their natural curiosity and, with the endless range of things to explore and question, provides a uniquely engaging environment for unstructured play.endquote-25px

A Report on the Movement to Reconnect Children to the Natural World
by C. Charles, R. Louv, L. Bodner, B. Guns (2008)


Why does it matter?

For countless generations, nature play has been a defining part of childhood. Yet only recently have we begun to grasp its powerful and positive impacts on children’s healthy growth and development.

  • Regular habits of active play during childhood are one of the best predictors of active adulthoods – a perfect prescription for combating the obesity epidemic.
  • School children who use playgrounds with trees, fields, shrubs, and vegetated edges show more creative play, better concentration, and more inter-gender play than peers with equipment-focused playgrounds.
  • Outdoor play in green settings reduces the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.
  • According to the “hygiene hypothesis,” early exposure to plants, animals, and soil helps children’s immune systems to develop properly, making them less vulnerable to allergenic conditions like asthma and peanut allergies.
  • Frequent, unstructured childhood play in natural settings has been found to be the most common influence on the development of life-long conservation values.

Quoted from “A Parent’s Guide to Nature Play” by Ken Finch, Green Hearts Inc. 2009

Field Trips at Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden

  • Guided tour groups are welcome to visit our children’s garden after the guided tour has ended. We recommend planning for 30 min – 1 hour of play time.
  • Self-guided tour groups are encouraged to tour the Gardens first and visit the children’s garden afterward. We recommend self-guided tours lasting 1.5-2 hours with an additional 30 min – 1 hour for play at the Children’s Garden.
  • The Children’s Garden includes water features that allow children to get wet.

Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden was designed with best practices in nature play-based landscape architecture and balances appropriate risky play and safety so that children of all ages and abilities will find challenges physically and mentally. Natural elements provide loose parts (shells, acorns, sticks and more) with which children can use their imaginations to play in endless variety (creating soups, mud pies, space ships and more). When children create their own play and negotiate rules with peers, they are practicing to become helpful, healthy and happy members of society. But most importantly – play is how we have fun!

Teachers and chaperones are responsible for the safety of their group and are also part of making the experience positive and fun. We encourage adults to actively participate in play at the children’s garden by being present for children without interrupting play unless necessary. Marvel at the skills your students are developing during play, participate in the play as the child directs, and allow that learning is part of play but is not the primary goal.