Not everything has changed. The djidi-djidi still chases the crow. The ocean still bends to the sky. The tree has not tired of the sun. Clouds still tell stories. And the herring still fancies itself a marlin.
And as COVID-19 turns things upside down, there has never been a better time to reconnect with the natural world all around us and enjoy the mini adventures of play.
Nature Play WA is here to help. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be sharing a steady stream of free outdoor play and learning ideas with you through our newsletters, Facebook, Instagram, website, and apps. We’ll do our best to keep you stocked with activity ideas to help you stay positive and make adventure out of adversity for the children in your life.
Activities you can do at home and beyond
We are going to share them because they are fun, because they are good for the physical and mental health of your whole family, and because finding ways to stay positively engaged with each other and the world around us is the best response to challenging times.
How nature and play help
There are lots of ways to stay positive and healthy as the COVID 19 health crisis bites into our regular lives, but nature and play are two particularly good ways and here’s why.
Spending time in the outdoors is good for our mental and physical health. To give you a glimpse of the nature effect, a famous study by one Roger Ulrich back in 1984 showed that hospital patients with a view of greenery from their bedside recover quicker than those who don’t. And what is more, the patients with the nature view also required less pain medication and had fewer post-operative complications.
Professor Ulrich’s study went on to impact the design of thousands of hospitals, including Fiona Stanley Hospital and the Perth Children’s Hospital.
And in Norway the team at Oslo University Hospital are taking that concept a step further and delivering therapy for children with trauma, or who are facing scary treatments, in a little patch of forest next to the hospital. Kids visiting the hospital light fires in the snow in winter, build cubbies, play among the trees and trails, and if you visit on the right day you will even see children on gurneys (those beds with wheels) catching fish from a little bridge that links the hospital to the forest.
I met with Dr Maren Lindheim the project leader in Oslo last year and she explained that by conducting therapy in the outdoors the hospital had effectively reduced the use of restraints (physical and pharmaceutical), helped transform traumatic experiences into something manageable and even enjoyable, and initial evaluation was suggesting that patient’s time in hospital was being reduced.
The program is working so well they are now working on rolling the program out to hospitals around Norway.
A growing body of research showing that nature has an extremely positive impact on reducing anxiety and stress and improving mental health. And when we feel better, we are better equipped to deal with adversity – yes, including the frustrations pressures and anxieties associated with living through a pandemic.
Play is equally important for kids of all ages. For all children, but particularly for the pre-teen years, play is a primary way of getting the physical activity they need to be healthy. It may surprise you to hear, but kids get more exercise from active play than they do from sport. And moving and getting your blood flow protects you from a range of diseases over time, but it also has an immediate positive impact on mental health.
Play is also a really valuable form of social interaction, and an imaginative play can play an important role in children processing events in their lives. And play is just plain fun! And fun is important all the time, but particularly when we are facing stress and anxiety.
When you put play and nature together you get peak childhood. The open-ended nature of the outdoors and the sensory richness of nature inspire physical activity and play, and play helps kids connect, move, process, build resilience, and enjoy themselves.
What could be better?
How to play in nature during a lockdown
The first thing to remember is that nature is everywhere. It is even inside your house. Your plants, pets, and even the daddy long legs in the corner of the laundry are all part of nature – and so are you.
But nature is also a continuum from the domestic nature in your house to those magnificent wild places that WA has more of than anywhere else on the planet. In the middle are gardens, verges, local parks beaches, trails and that empty block with the good long grass down the road.
And here in WA we are blessed with two of the rarest commodities around the world – personal space, and nearby nature. So, with a little focus and a little effort you will be able to find somewhere to play nearby and where you can maintain social-distancing and stay true to the health guidelines that will keep us safe as a community.
If you are lucky enough to have an outdoor space of your own, this is perfect for lockdown nature play. Everything from potion making, to hide and seek, to cubby building, art and craft and dress ups are all best outdoors. But if you don’t have a garden there are still plenty of places nearby to play.
Tips at home:
Embrace the mess (it means fun is being had)
Loose parts rule (think pots and pans, brooms, toilet rolls etc)
Water is always a hit! Small amounts of water can go a long way, and sprinklers on your watering day are like a theme park
Support play, but don’t drive it (autonomy is important for play
Get activity ideas here
Tips outdoors beyond the home:
Keep abreast of the latest Government advice to stay safe here
Look for uncrowded places to visit
Avoid shared play equipment during the COVID-19 lockdown
Take your own balls, frisbees etc
Have a plan B, or C, in case your favourite spot is too crowded to maintain social distancing
Make an adventure of heading to a nature area you might not normally visit
Why this crisis is a parenting opportunity
The gears of social and economic change are running hot right now. Scary hot. COVID-19 is driving job losses, business closures, and the shuttering of the cultural activities, and an increase in social isolation and it will impact families around the world.
For all its many challenges, this pandemic is also an opportunity for parents. A chance to show our kids that while we cannot always control what happens around us, we can control how we choose to respond to it. And that choice is a very important form of freedom. A freedom that allows us to stay active, positive and compassionate through the challenges that life inevitably hands us.
It is a freedom that is at the heart of resilience and of good mental health, and it may be the most important gift you ever give your child.
Of course, to provide that positive example for our children we also have to be doing OK ourselves, and that isn’t easy in these challenging times. Here is a great short read from the Australian Psychological Society on maintaining positive mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.
And here are a few thoughts from us on staying positive through COVID-19:
Don’t look at the news after dinner (there’s no point in sitting in bed reading the horror stories)
Limit the time you spend on social media and avoid conspiracy theories and doomsday talk
Get your COVID-19 information from reputable sources like the WA Health Department and the Department of Premier and Cabinet
Support your friends and family, and accept their support in return
Stay compassionate (we are in this together)
Remind yourself that this will end
Exercise (even if it is in the loungeroom)
Get outdoors and connect with nature where you can
Try to focus on what you can control and not on what you can’t
Don’t blame yourself if you are struggling and seek professional help if you need it
Well nature-players, stay safe, stay connected, and remember to keep an eye our for the outdoor play and learning ideas we are going to be sending your way.