Children should play in nature, research shows

GREAT OUTDOORS: Deakin University's Llewellyn Wishart says natural terrain such as rocks, bark and dirt are essential parts of childhood learning. Picture: Amy Paton

GREAT OUTDOORS: Deakin University's Llewellyn Wishart says natural terrain such as rocks, bark and dirt are essential parts of childhood learning. Picture: Amy Paton

A DEAKIN University researcher is aiming to bring nature back to Warrnambool playgrounds.

Early Childhood Education lecturer Llewellyn Wishart will host a professional development session for Warrnambool City Council early learning services staff on Monday, focused on developing new-look outdoor spaces.

Mr Wishart said Deakin's Greening Early Childhood Outdoor Spaces research group was investigating how redeveloping outdoor spaces could help children with their learning, health, well-being and their connections with nature.

“The layout can make a significant difference,” he said.

“More naturalised outdoor spaces with varied terrain give a more physical challenge and are good for their development.

“The keys to a successful design include ensuring the layout and terrain promotes physical activity and has natural materials that enrich the play of children

“It helps children learn about nature, how to care for plants, growing food, connecting with animals and building respect and care for the environment.”

Mr Wishart said the new designs were a swing back to nature after health and safety movements made playgrounds more carefully constructed.

“Research shows people are happier and healthier with regular contact with nature and nice spaces to move or play in,” he said.

“Even contact with the soil is good for their immune system and there is value in children being outdoors for their eyesight.

“Many children spend time in outdoor spaces that often don’t have enough trees or plants or have all flat surfaces which means they don’t get enough stimulation and challenge with their physical activity.

“They need varied terrain that challenges and encourages them to climb and run and jump and have a lot of scope for open free play.”

Mr Wishart said the development session with Warrnambool City Council would look at design principles that could be applied to improve existing outdoor spaces.

About 50 people are expected to attend on Monday.