Go Out and Play!


My mom used to tell us kids, “Go out and play! Be back by supper time.” We had free range of the neighborhood, where we invented games, climbed trees, and built forts out of sticks and logs. Little did Mom know that an entire field of research would arise that affirms the amazing benefits of nature play.

Studies now show that nature play – where children have hands-on, unstructured, open-ended opportunities to explore an environment with natural objects and topography – has many positive impacts on their intellectual, social, emotional, and physical well-being.

The best natural playground – which has served humans well for thousands of years – is of course, nature. But finding the place or creating the time for children to play outside in our increasingly urbanized and scheduled lives has become a challenge.

Recognizing this “nature deficit” in children’s lives, some Minnesota schools and nature centers are creating natural playgrounds to meet children’s outdoor play needs. The book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv often serves as a guide. (Note: Richard Louv is speaking in the Twin Cities April 22, see below.) Natural playgrounds are designed to promote physical, intellectual, and emotional health by providing children with opportunities for sensory exploration, discovery, cooperation, interaction, imagination, relaxation, daydreaming and solitude.

But schools can’t do it all. We parents are really the ones to make the time in our children’s day and say: “Go out and play.” Outdoor spaces need not be over-engineered – a place to dig in the dirt, and permission to get dirty, may be all it takes!

For lots more ideas on “kidscaping” your yard, see “A Parents’ Guide to Nature Play.”

Research affirms what Mom knew all along – children who play outdoors are healthier, perform better academically, and become attuned to the life-sustaining beauties of nature. Why not give this gift to our children?

Local natural playground events:

April 19 – Dodge Nature Center Outdoor Learning Conference

April 22 – Richard Louv speaks at the Ridgedale Library

Local playgrounds with natural features:

Tamarack Nature Center, 5287 Otter Lake Road, White Bear Township,

Wargo Nature Center, 7701 Main Street, Lino Lakes, MN

Forest Lake Early Childhood Family Center,  200 SW 4th Street, Forest Lake

Dodge Nature Center Preschool, 1715 Charlton Street, West St. Paul

Normandy Park Early Childhood Center, 2482 County Road F, White Bearl Lake

Research reports:
Children and Nature


Green Hearts


Rusty Keeler – Earthplay
Natural Playgrounds Company
White Hutchinson
Nature Explore

Photo courtesy wlcutler via Creative Commons