How play in the natural world boosts wellbeing and inspires imagination.

Children benefit from being outdoors and playing with few props or manufactured toys so a recent research paper confirms:  But with autumn drawing on and scares about child safety influencing our plans how can we ensure children do get the benefit of play in a natural environment?


Vitamin N or the power of nature has long been acknowledged as an important source of enjoyment and stimulation for children but sometimes in our busy, and increasingly urban lives, this can feel like something only possible at weekends or for special occasions.  Let’s explore ways to weave the outdoors into ordinary life.

  1. Keep it short: wrap up well and visit somewhere green, maybe on your way to somewhere else.  Don’t feel it has to be a major event. See rain wear, boots, wellies, scarves, umbrellas, hats and gloves as part of this seasons must clothing rather than a grudging necessity best avoided.
  2. Enjoy the rain and snow: How many children do you know who refuse to splash in puddles or make a snowball?  Children are robust and with energetic play keep warm anyway.  If you are the party pooper, try joining in too, you may enjoy it.  A short outing won’t do anyone any harm.
  3. Discover new places on your doorstep: do you know every green space locally however small? have you got favourites? Why not visit new ones to check them out?
  4. Set out with a plan: collect leaves, look for mushrooms, dip a local pond, search for mini beasts.  Take pictures if you want to, maybe make a pretty computer montage of outdoor fun.  But I would suggest you maybe leave the worksheet thing out of your plan.  At the risk of offending my readers, I feel really sad when I see kids somewhere lovely looking at a piece of paper rather than the world about them.
  5. Make a play date: take along a friend or neighbour’s child if their parents are busy then maybe the favour will be returned another time.
  6. Create a group outing: kids can play and parents can watch and chat and occasionally rescue any tricky situations.
  7. Create a play diary: if you are going to squeeze some extra time out of a busy day then plan it in.  Sometimes when we see play as spontaneous it gets pushed out in favour of something urgent. But is it more important?
  8. Enjoy the afterglow:  coming home to get warm, eat something to boost your energy and share the best moments. Those memories will last a very long time. Enjoy.

If this has article has encouraged you to make some changes then great. Start slowly and relish the process. See what each idea offers before you move on. If you have any questions or comments do contact me.

Jeni Hooper is a Child and Educational Psychologist specialising in helping children to find their best selves and to flourish.  Her book What Children need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and can be viewed here

Jeni can be contacted at or visit my website


About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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