Dear Nature Play WA community,
After 12 years at the helm of Nature Play WA, it is time for me to say goodbye and wish you all a nature-rich life, full of play, connection, and adventure.
As I prepare to move into whatever my next adventure may be, and as Nature Play WA prepares to welcome a new CEO, I thought I’d take a moment to share a few parting thoughts.
There is still, I think, some divergence of opinion on what this thing called nature play is. For some, the words ‘nature play’ describe a kind of play space. One that has more natural elements and, perhaps, more risks than traditional playgrounds. For me, it is something different entirely.
To me, nature play is something you do, not something you install. It is, at its heart, a way of playing, a way of engaging with nature, and for us adults it is a way of understanding and caring for children.
As a form of play, nature play is distinguished by the vastness of its possibilities. A vastness supported by place, time, and permission.
Nature play can happen anywhere, but it happens most in undesigned places that are free from the stamp of adult assumptions. Places, rather, that are enlivened by the sensory richness of nature and by an infinity of as-yet unimagined stories. These places can be found in our magnificent national parks and nature reserves, or in the branches of verge trees, or under the canopy of schoolyard shrubs, or in the megalopolis of weeds, insects and decomposing leaves in the back corner of a garden, or in a pile of brickies sand under a bird filled sky.
And yes, they can be found in playgrounds.
Nature play also needs time. Time without adults back-seat-driving their play. Caring adult guidance is incredibly important in children’s lives, but children also need time free from it. They need time to sink into conversation with their imaginations as they digest, revise, revisit, reimagine and reinvent the universe of inputs that flow through their everyday.
But perhaps most of all, nature play needs permission. Permission to explore. Permission to fall over. Permission to make a mess. Permission to learn through doing. Permission to be brave. Permission to make stuff up, and to make stuff ups.
As a way of understanding and caring for children, nature play is not about letting kids do whatever they want. It is about being a connected, and caring adult, who helps the children in your life build the capacity for independent play and learning that will enrich their childhoods and stay with them forever.
Working at Nature Play WA has, without question, been the highlight of my working life. A chance to lean into a mission that is deeply important to me personally and that I believe is fundamental to thriving children and communities.
And it has been an opportunity to work with some remarkable, committed, talented, generous, and genuinely lovely people. They are our stakeholders in government, our Board, our team, and the communities we have connected with over the years.
Our Board volunteer their time to our cause in way that is often overlooked. They are busy people with careers, families, friends and hobbies. And yet, month after month, they gift their time to our cause, and we simply could not begin to tackle what we do without them. I thank them for everything they continue to give to our cause.
Our staff numbers have concertinaed over the years, from a single person working two days a week at the start, to a team of eight as I write this. But our team has always punched above its weight, by balancing a deep passion for our mission and pragmatic willingness to get things done. Each and every one of them would make a valuable addition to any workplace. They are skilful, dedicated, hard-working, and fun to be around. They have taught me an awful lot over the years, and I will miss working with them.
What I have absolutely no doubt of, is that Nature Play WA will continue to grow from here. The mission is too important for it not to. Our stakeholders, Board, and staff are too committed and too hard working for any other possibility. And your support, families and educators of WA, is too strong for it to fall.