This great question popped up in my Facebook group recently about taking longer trips out to nature, and what you should bring along for the kids to keep them adventuring for a longer period of time, more so than on just a standard walk/hike.
This is actually something that comes up pretty frequently in my groups and in my discussions with parents and schools – what objects are good to take along into nature when you venture out with your children?
Typically, answers include things like buckets, nets, scoops, cameras, art supplies, toys, snacks, and other things of the like. And of course none of these are bad answers. Anything that gets a child out into nature and exploring and having fun is the point here! That’s how they start to receive a lot of the many amazing benefits of being out in nature… by just BEING THERE.
But then again…
I think it’s important to note that nature doesn’t need help! Sure, when you’re first starting on this venture, especially with older children, you might need to bring along some things to help them begin on the adventuring and imagination journey into seeing what nature really has to offer for them.
Sidenote: Believe it or not, children can “forget how to play” if it’s not something that is a part of their everyday experience, and changing habits sometimes require supports. If you feel that your child needs some supports or inspiring provocations to get them back to that personal creativity, check out the Pay-What-You-Can Forest School Curriculum I have available.
But for the very young child or the child who is used to spending time outdoors and in nature, venturing out into the woods or to the river bank or anywhere other than a backyard really doesn’t require any additional elements! The loose parts that nature already provides gives you all the imagination you need.
Now, it’s of course not harmful if you are bringing extra things. But why make extra work for yourself?
And by bringing along additional pieces, you may possibly be stifling some creativity, inspiration for creating something new, and inventive thinking skills that could be happening when your child uses the nature around them to do what the props you brought along are instead doing for them!
For example – if you bring along a scoop or a net for your child to collect things out of the river, they probably will not then create something to do the same job – such as using a large stick to scoop things up, or collecting things with leaves, or designing a cup of some sort with found natural objects.
And yes, I see that you may think I’m being a purist or that it really doesn’t matter either way, but I really want to help you to take it to the next level here!
There are studies that show that children participating in unstructured free play (without props) in nature actually teaches them a lot of the same developmental skills that will help them with technology and engineering related skills later on, which in this day and age are incredibly useful to growing children and adults. By the way, I’m a presenter at the 2019 Homeschool STEM Conference where I speak about Outdoor STEM Exploration, so check that out if you’re interested!
If you are giving your children tools up front to use, they’re not in a position where they need or perhaps want to be inventive and create it themselves.
So this is just some food for thought. The next time you plan on going out on an outdoor adventure with your child other than just a typical nature walk or backyard play, challenge yourself to refrain from taking additional pieces along and just see what happens when your child gets out there on their own!
For the record… the one thing I DO encourage bringing along to the wilderness is books. I’ve found a good book or nature journal to be a fantastic imagination builder, and a great story will light a fire under your child to create and pretend and imagine while they are out in the wild. And it also provides a nice break if you’re going to be out there for an extended period of time.
I’d love to hear your stories about how your child explores freely in nature without the use of additional toys or other objects. Come share in my Facebook Group or in the comments below!