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Benefits of

Nature Play

The Benefits of Outdoor Play at
Three Trees Learning Centre (Te Kāhui Toetoe)

Research has discovered that playing amongst nature helps children to develop a range of skills. Here are five of the skills and benefits of outdoor play:
Outdoor play develops
physical skills...

Prolonged periods of outdoor play has been shown to have a positive impact on children's development, particularly in a child’s development of balance, agility, fine and gross motor development, physical coordination, tactile sensitivity, and depth perception. According to these studies, children who attend forest play based learning environments experience fewer injuries due to accidents as their risk assessment improves.


Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor coordination and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft & Sageie 2001).


Outdoor play develops 
social skills...

Outdoor spaces offer room to explore, play and grow, without the confines of walls. The natural wonders and large spaces encourage children to extend themselves to being more sociable, talking with others, making friends, and engaging in games and group experiences with peers.

Our well-considered outdoor environment promotes increasing social independence with less need for adult intervention, as nature play and natural resources have so many open-ended, imaginative possibilities. Children learn to plan and figure it out, creating and working together, further developing their language and  communication skills. Together, children can verbally express their ideas, collaborating to explore and use equipment in the context of their shared play and discovery.


Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying (Malone & Tranter 2003). Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler et al. 2002). Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1996). When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor, et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000).


Outdoor play develops
emotional skills...

Nature play provides opportunities to create a connection with nature and to be more self-reflective in a natural environment. The large, safe, purpose built outdoor space gives children the opportunity to have long stretches of uninterrupted and uninhibited play.

This helps children to learn an element of independence when socially interacting with other children, as well as learning how to play by themselves. They learn how to take turns, to be self-motivated, how to negotiate unfamiliar obstacles and problem solve. Children have a developing sense of independence and self-reliance.

Outdoor play equipment can help children to learn to test and know their limits, becoming good with risk assessment. It teaches them to explore and become confident in trialling and learning new things.

Skilled kaiako observe and support. While growing children’s independence and ability to lead, they ask open ended questions and extend learning opportunities for all tamariki.


Exposure to natural environments improves children's cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002). Outdoor environments are important to children's development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).


Outdoor play promotes
good health and well-being...

There are numerous health benefits to playing outside. Playing outdoors is proven to strengthen the immune systems of children, preschool teachers and support staff.  With more room to play in, children are often more active when outside, building fitness, strength and agility while burning off energy. The exposure to sunshine means children naturally absorb vital vitamins which has a direct impact on moods and create a positive mental attitude.

Spending time in nature betters the immune system, decreases stress levels and improves attention. Forest based play environments are generally less noisy than closed rooms, and noise has been shown to be a factor in the stress levels of children, preschool teachers and support staff. The freedom of outdoor play also encourages children to channel energy positively which leads to a greater feeling of calmness and ultimately helps them to be more engaged during times of more focussed learning.


Nature buffers the impact of life's stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells & Evans 2003). Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world (Crain 2001). Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991).


Outdoor play develops
intellectual skills...

Boys may be less intellectually able than girls at typical school tasks such as reading and mathematics, so forest learning environments have been recommended in the early years. When children have attended forest education in their early years, school teachers observe a significant improvement in reading, writing, mathematics.


Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Wells 2000, Taylor et al. 2002). Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature (Taylor et al. 2001). Wonder is an important motivator for lifelong learning (Wilson 1997).

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