Nature Play & Learning in Early Childhood

The benefits of outdoor play are especially important in early childhood education today. Among young children ages 2 to 5 years, the prevalence of obesity has more than tripled over the past three decades and 60% percent of children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers continue to be so as adolescents, which can lead to a variety of associated health problems into adulthood. The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared this a national emergency and indicates that prevention is critical. Outdoor play is a “prescription” that is readily accessible to all!

Nature play and learning spaces are the perfect forum to encourage children to play physically, creatively and socially while getting the exercise they need to stay healthy. In addition to the physical benefits, an increasing number of studies indicate that children who engage in outdoor nature play develop stronger immune systems, play more creatively, have more active imaginations and develop stronger social & vocabulary skills. Furthermore, engaging with nature from an early age is correlated with a stronger connection to the natural world, empathy for other creatures, and continuing interest in environmental stewardship.

Tip: Also visit our Nature Play Frequently Asked Questions and Nature Play Area Basics pages that offer basic information on nature play areas and typical components, including 11 Qualities of a High Quality Early Childhood Outdoor Space.

Network & Tools for Educators and Parents of Young Children
Natural Start Alliance (North American Environmental Ed Association)

Forest & Nature Schools and Kindergartens
Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools
Forest Kindergarten Association

Nature-Based Preschool Conferences
Nature Based Preschool National Conference
Irvine Nature Center Nature Preschool Conference

Early Education Nature Play & Learning Resources
Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Natural Start Alliance Resources
Early Childhood Resources for Nature Play
NAEYC Quality Outdoor Play Spaces for Young Children
Educator Tools: Science STEM & Environmental Education Supplies
Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning
Project Resource Library: Learn More!

Creating Play & Learning Spaces
Nature Play Areas
Outdoor Classrooms, Labs & Habitats
Features to Encourage Observation & Discovery

Child balancing on logs sticking out of the ground