Interested in the facts and figures that support what nature play is all about? Browse a selection of research that we have hand-picked and summarised with South Australian families in mind.



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Education outside the Classroom (EOTC) has a long and rich history in Aotearoa New Zealand schools, contributing positively to the lives of many young New Zealanders. The purpose of this study was to gain a contemporary and comprehensive understanding of what EOTC is currently occurring in schools across, the value that schools see in/ascribe to EOTC, and the various challenges and factors that influence the provision of EOTC.

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Hanna Rosin’s excellent and in depth article looks at why a preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery, without actually making it any safer. Rosin notes, most parents today remember their own childhoods as quite different from the way their children are growing up. Aware that she is not adverse to being a constant presence in her own children’s lives, Rosin takes her 5 year old son Gideon to ‘The Land’ – an adventure playground with a difference in North Wales – where children make the rules, parents are nowhere to be seen and fire making is an every day occurrence.

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This fascinating dissertation from well known researcher Roger Hart is almost 40 years old but is as relevant now as ever. It is a beautiful depiction of life not that long ago which seems worlds away from the indoor, screen dominated, car-oriented lives of children today.

Hart spent two years in a small New England town, following and mapping children’s movement and perception of their landscape as they built cubbies, fished at the river, explored, biked and roamed. He became part of the neighbourhood as these children shared their most treasured and tucked away play areas, far from watchful parents. Footage taken of the children at play during this time can still be found on the internet. Thirty years later, Hart returned to the town where some of the children still lived, now grown up with children of their own. He found that despite their rather free-range upbringing, these parents would not dream of letting their children play unsupervised that far from home.

Hart makes some beautiful observations.

– “Small patches of dirt throughout the town are the most intensively used of all children’s places.”

– Children like to find small places, as “places of retreat, to look out upon the world from a place of one’s own, as places for experimenting with how to put things together… In each of these activities a child is probably exploring his or her relationship with the environment, both social and physical.”

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Numerous studies over the past ten years have noted a trend towards over – protective parenting practices that restrict children’s activities and limit children’s independent mobility and neighbourhood engagement. Through semi – structured interviews with mothers of four and five year old children, this study examines beliefs around children’s outdoor play opportunities and exposure to and management of potential risks in outdoor environments. Whilst the results showed mothers overwhelmingly acknowledged the benefits of risky outdoor play, tension existed between their desire to provide opportunities for this type of play, and their own fears and concerns about their children’s safety.

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Year Level: Early Years

Subject Area: Risk

This article takes an evolutionary perspective of children’s risky play, looking at evolutionary functions and the anti-phobic effects of risky play.

According to non-associative theory, infants develop fear of things (like heights and strangers) to protect them from situations they are not mature enough to naturally cope with. Risky play provides children with the experience of facing situations they were previously scared of, coupled with a thrilling positive emotion. As they learn to cope with these situations and gain a sense of mastery, their fear no longer holds power.

 The authors conclude that risky play may have evolved as a natural phobia reducing developmental mechanism and that consequently, being hindered from taking part in age appropriate risky play may in fact increase the likelihood of mental health problems later in life.

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This report from the National Wildlife Federation reveals how getting down and dirty in the great outdoors — far from being a bad thing — has many benefits.  Mud play builds children’s immune systems, strengthens their cardiovascular system, assists skin with healing, improves mood, facilitates learning and decreases anxiety. It also explains why children who do not spend time outside run the risk of developing serious health issues like obesity, myopia and vitamin D deficiency.


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