Natural play for health and well being

17 March 2020


Back in 2016 the National Trust published their Natural Childhood report. The report outlined a clear need to tackle the rise of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, a term coined by the US based writer Richard Louv, to describe a growing dislocation between children and nature. Moss presented compelling evidence that we as a nation, and especially our children, are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. Indeed, the survey showed that 84% of parents believe that playing outdoors makes their children more imaginative and creative, while 96% felt it was important for children to have a connection with nature. 

The report also highlighted the very real link between outdoor play and positive mental and physical health. It raised concerns about declining levels of both. Principal among this were declining levels emotional resilience and the declining ability to assess risk - both vital life-skills in the development of which outdoor experience is vital, as child psychologist Professor Tanya Byron has noted: 

The less children play outdoors, the less they learn to cope with the risks and challenges they will go on to face as adults… Nothing can replace what children gain from the freedom and independence of thought they have when trying new things out in the open.A potential impact is that children who don’t take risks become adults who don’t take risks. In the current global economy this, too, is a price we cannot afford to pay.

But, this was four years ago. Since then, what has really changed?

There is no denying that there is a wider acceptance of the importance of natural play or ‘Wild Time’, when children can engage with nature through play and activity. But there is still a notable challenge in ‘fitting this in’ to modern life - both in schools and outside. Many of our customers - particularly those in urban environments - express a desire for greater natural world engagement whilst still considering it the exclusive privilege of those based in more rural environments and with greater space - as was the case with .

Over the past year or two we have written a number of articles focusing on helping children to engage with the natural world more. Here are some of the most popular:


And here are some collections of case studies that we’ve put together:



But it can be easy to see ‘natural play’ as only learning about creepy crawlies, plants and trees. When considering the health and well being benefits of time in the natural world, it’s important to remember that it goes much further:

Outdoor learning all year round - We understand that it can be a daunting prospect, going outside in all weathers, but there are real health benefits. Vitamin D is known to be good for our circulatory and nervous systems; is a potent antioxidant and is essential for healthy bone development in the young. And let’s not forget that Serotonin aids our bodies’ management of appetite and sleep and also acts as an effective natural antidepressant. It lifts our mood, inhibits our urge to overeat and helps us sleep well. This is one of the reasons why we have developed a popular range of Outdoor Classrooms and Shelters designed for any space and purpose. 

Calming spaces for quiet time or reflection - Not all children feel comfortable racing around or playing as part of a large, noisy group. Sometimes quieter space is needed to ensure they can still benefit from being outdoors whilst also enjoying quieter time. This can also be beneficial for the development of social skills and in combating bullying. Our Buddy Bus Stop Hut, for example, has been shown to strengthen your anti-bullying policy with clear pictorial signage, mounted on smooth timber posts, a weather-proof plastic roof and timber seating. Other options include our Tipi, benches and seating, or even including something like our Adventure Outpost in more active woodland trails. 

Sensory play - An important part of natural play is developing sensory skills, but too often touch or sound are forgotten out of preference to sight.  Sand and water play can be a fantastic way to explore touch, as can something like our Materials Centre. And let’s not forget our Musical play equipment for developing an understanding of sound in nature. 

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