When children have unstructured play time in nature, their imaginations come alive. They are better observers, they ask questions, and they become more comfortable with their surroundings when they are able to explore nature on their own. Despite its benefits, all too often, unstructured play time is limited for kids today, especially in the outdoors.
Video games and, yes, even structured sports can take away from self-exploration. Unstructured play time in forests, by creeks, or in meadows offers students the chance to set their own objectives, while building critical thinking and problem-solving skills and improving social interactions.
The League is all about nature play in the redwoods which is why we, in partnership with the City of Oakland’s Rotary Nature Center, recently brought over 100 students from Burckhalter Elementary in Oakland to Joaquin Miller Park to do some much needed “playing” in the forest. These after-school students from kindergarten through fifth grade spent three hours playing animal games, exploring the creek looking for critters, and hiking through the redwoods.
Screams of excitement came from the students’ mouths when they found a centipede or a worm under a rock. “When do we get to go hiking?” was asked numerous times until the opportunity came to trek through the forest.
All 106 students ended their time at the park with a three-minute silent sit beneath the redwood trees. To my surprise, it was the easiest part of the day. As the students plopped down on the redwood needles and cones, they silently listened to the forest. Not one peep was heard from a student; a moment of silence in a world where busy and noisy city streets are probably all they experience.
I can’t help but finish my time with their students with a huge smile on my face – they got dirty, they experienced something new, and they spent the afternoon in the redwoods.