Five ways we’re developing our Nature Brain with outdoor play

Here are five ways we’ve been developing Nature Brains, helping our brains reach a new depth of skills, calm, and connections, during nature hikes and time at Nature Play Stations.  Count down to many happy memories and a future of finding green spaces where you can go to feel centered and inspired.

5.  Reaching Developmental Milestones

painting a fire to tell stories around, in the fern glen

“A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.”

–The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, from

4.  Making Sense of Our World
two sprouts finding their way together

“The play yard is the place where children go to make sense of their world, most often with playmates and by engaging in pretend play.  Recognizing that the play yard is part of our classroom is the first step in appreciating the powerful value of outdoor play (e.g., NAEYC 1999),”

Jane P. Perry, PhD, Harold E Jones Child Study Center, UC Berkeley

3.  Experiencing a Rich Learning Environment
finding new surprise each day

“Primary or first-hand experience of the world exposes a person to inexhaustible possibilities for learning, and the richer the environment, the richer the possibilities. A person outdoors encounters a dynamic, dense, multisensory flow of diversely structured information.

–Edward Reed, 1996, from Participation and Learning, Perspectives on Education and the Environment (Chawla)

2.  Developing Mental Dexterity

IMG_0218“Childhood needs to be spacious enough for outdoor play to take on a prominent role. And not just because such play is fun but because it’s biologically adaptive.  Just as bobcat kittens play to develop their mental dexterity for hunting, children play to develop their mental dexterity.  Play helps children understand that the world is malleable, that their actions on the world can make a difference… Playing with natural materials in childhood prepares us for playing with ideas behind a desk.” — David Sobel, Wild Play

Nature Play vs. Nature Brain

IMG_0271I often use the terms Nature Brain and Nature Play interchangeably.  While it’s important to note the research that suggests we’re supporting school curriculum learning goals, and cognitive “Nature Brain” development, it feels unnatural to shift the program’s focus away from this last, very valuable benefit.  The Sprouts & Seedlings program is conducted at the GEC, a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to promoting horticulture, conservation, and the arts.  The Sprouts program four-season gardening in the greenhouse, hands-on play in the Pinetum and learning garden, all plant the seeds for a lifetime of love for natural spaces.

1.  Shaping Pathways Towards Environmental Stewardship

“Participation with “wild” nature before age 11 is a particularly potent pathway toward shaping both environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood. When children become truly engaged with the natural world at a young age, the experience is likely to stay with them in a powerful way—shaping their subsequent environmental path.”

— Wells, N. and Lekies, K (2006), Cornell, Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism, Children, Youth and Environments (16)

Many happy memories

If your kids are coming for Mushrooms, a week of nature-based enrichment in Sprouts, or a Sunday afternoon workshop, in addition to knowledge and skills, we’re hoping they come away with a sense of place.  How much do they love this forest and garden and want to come back?  How many stories can they build and share that feature themselves as courageous, strong, and connected to the land and each other?  Through the power of their imagination, can they feel like they are welcome, and can play a confident role this amazing ecosystem?  Will they feel adequately empowered later to be stewards and stakeholders of these community green spaces?  Will they be determined to work through complex problems and find solutions with their peers?

We’re certain they’ll take away many happy outdoor memories, like these images from our summer enrichment weeks (photos are from August 2014, week three)!  Below are some memorable quotes from our time together.  These are the reasons we sign up again and again, revisit the outdoors, and play together!
IMG_0203“That’s the tree where we found the treasure!”

“I know the path to the fire pit for the stories”

“It’s the same pine cone I guessed in the game”

“That’s the spinach patch where we picked our snack”

“Soil like this is good for growing lettuce”

“This spot will be soft after the rainstorm – we’ll come back to see”

“These are the branches I used to build the habitat”

Bring them in for Nature Play now, for an adventure, and when they’re ready, your kids will ask and have the genuine desire to learn:  what kind of tree it is, which pine cone is that, and what’s inside?  Where can I find/grow fresh spinach?  Who takes care of this land, and how can I help?

Dear Parents,

We’re nearing the end of enrollment for Sprouts & Seedlings:  Winter Adventure Play in the Pinetum with the Garden Education Center.

Our next Nature Play week will be:

Nature Stories: Winter Adventure Play in the Pinetum!

February 9 – 13
9:15 a.m. – Noon
Ages 3 – 8
Pre-Register by January 28

To register click here

For our daily schedule and more information CLICK HERE

Summer Enrichment Dates:  June 22-26, June 29-July 3


To support this effort

you can become a member,

or donate to our annual appeal.

Thank you!


One thought on “Five ways we’re developing our Nature Brain with outdoor play

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s