Did you know that children are spending 50 percent less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago? Nature play is a research-based movement gaining popularity in the United States to help combat this statistic. Nature play involves children interacting with our world in ways that are naturally exciting and engaging for them.

Take a moment to recall a few of your favorite childhood memories. Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? Maybe one of those memories involved getting dirty and adventuring around your backyard or neighborhood. Maybe you were collecting caterpillars, making mud pies, reading a book under your favorite tree or watering flowers in your garden. You were immersed in nature.

These are the types of activities our youngest learners at the Desert Botanical Garden are experiencing every week. Baby Boojums, is a class for six to 30 month olds and Seedlings, is a class for 3 to 5 year olds, give children the opportunity to play outside and experiencing the joys and mess of the natural world. Current research demonstrates that children who experience nature with a trusted adult results in lifelong earth stewardship and environmental sensitivity. 

Wendy, mother to Evangeline (5) and Clementine (2), from Phoenix brought her children to early childhood classes at the Garden for years. “Evangeline fell in love with Seedlings so much that we kept putting her in it. Then we saw that you had Boojums we decided to put Clementine in,” says Wendy. 

For Wendy’s family, the benefits of the learning opportunities outweigh the messes. “Are they learning? Are they having fun? If those two things are happening, I’m okay. You can replace an outfit, but the memories that are being made are what’s important. They learn by touching and experiencing it by themselves. I want my daughters to have memories of getting dirty,” says Wendy. 

The magic in nature play is that it can help children develop in every single domain. Studies have shown that nature play provides benefits to a child’s problem-solving, communication, social skills, self-awareness, emotional well-being and kinesthetic development. 

“Evangeline was very shy in the beginning, but now she’s very verbal. Seedlings has helped prepare her for kindergarten. Clementine is learning how to express herself more with words, her vocabulary is expanding and she’s using words like cactus and agave,” says Wendy. 

Early nature experiences can also result in a healthy, engaged and environmentally literate members of our community. At a time when innovative ideas are necessary to protect the Earth’s environment, young stewards are needed more than ever before. 

“I want my daughters to have their eyes open, to touch and see how they can impact and take care of the world. I want my daughters to continue this legacy with their children. We get so tethered to our phones that we forget that nature is beautiful.”

Find simple ways to learn, grow, get dirty and experience nature play every day:

  • Grab some buckets, spoons, water and head out to the dirt. 
  • Pick leaves off of various plants. Sort, count, trace and paint them. 
  • Gather up twigs, sticks and logs and start building. Add some twine, fabric or paint for extra fun.
  • Register for Baby Boojums, Aug. 28 to Sept. 22 or Seedlings, Oct. 10 to Nov. 17.