Return, and Return Again: How Revisiting Natural Spaces Benefits Children
It's been more than fifteen years since I first stepped into nature with a group of pre-schoolers. For weeks, Tash and I (working together in a beautiful service at the time) had spent our lunch breaks meandering through the bushland behind the service and pondering the possibility of bringing the children into the space. It doesn't sound so revolutionary now - many early childhood services get out and about in nature on a regular basis - but back then, it was almost unheard of. When we told people we were planning to take the children on regular outings into the bush, some no doubt thought we'd gone a little mad (and to be fair, we were a little!)
Those first few times we took tentative steps into the bushland were nerve-wracking, but quickly it became apparent that the children needed this, that we needed this. Walking beneath the leafy canopy, listening to birds and stepping over logs sparked something within us all. The bush became our place. A place that we kept coming back to. A place that I'm delighted to say, is still an important part of that service many years on.
Why revisit natural spaces with children?
While it might be tempting to explore varied locations - our desire for novelty ever present - revisiting the same places again and again and again with children provides amazing opportunities for learning and deep connection.
1. Seasonal change
When children revisit the same space time and again, they have the opportunity to connect to the seasonal changes. What happens to this space in Autumn? What birds do we hear at different parts of the year?
2. Deepened connection to place
Connection takes time. Sure, there are occasions where we feel an instant affinity to a place or space, but a real, deep connection needs time. Time to just be present, time to understand the flora and fauna, the unique eco-system at play. When we take time to learn about the traditional, first nations culture of the land on which we play, we discover so much more that we didn't know before - again deepening our connection to place.
3. Deepened sense of social responsibility
With a connection to place comes a strong sense of social responsibility - a desire to protect and nurture the space that feels special and important. When we returned time and again to our bushland, we felt increasing frustration at the rubbish that was being left there. The children sought out ways to combat the problem, such as creating signage to say "don't leave rubbish in our bush"
4. Opportunities to revisit play
We know that children like to revisit play scenarios. They like to build on a game, or work on a project within a space. When we give children opportunities to revisit play, we give them opportunities to grow their skills and deepen their connection with other children, with ideas, with understandings.
Won't they get bored?
Simple answer? No. Although we are returning to the same place again and again, nature is ever changing. There are new bugs to watch, new sticks to build with, new sounds to listen for. It is often us - the educators - who fail to see the wonder and delight in revisiting place. But, when we slow down and spend time with children in nature, spend time being present in nature - we deepen our own connections too.