BUILDING RESILIENCE THROUGH PLAY IN NATURE (PART 2)
Gathering Community Resources
Young children can learn so much from ‘experts’ and people who are there to help us in our local communities. As early years practitioners, one can’t be expected to know everything and to have confidence in all areas of learning and play. It can be enormously beneficial for children to experience that we are all on a learning journey and we all can benefit from help of others. Everyone can become more resilient through learning to ask for help when we need it and through looking for opportunities to learn from others. In your local community, you may have Forest School experts who can advise you on woodland spaces, craft activities, games and identification skills. They may also be able to lead sessions with your children for you. Local farmers are a great resource who may be willing to invite you and your children to see lambs, sheep shearing, or harvesting. If you have a local care farm, children may be able to help feed animals and get up close enough to touch them safely. In Nature Nurture we have also invited local outdoor crafts people to come and show us their skills. We’ve had the pleasure of welcoming greenwood workers, basket makers, artists, musicians and storytellers help us to make beautiful things outside and to be creative in our natural surroundings. If you are lucky enough to have an outdoor space you wish to develop and have the resources to invite landscapers or builders in to help you, involve the children too. Let them watch workmen and talk to them about what they are doing and maybe they can also help out imitate what they see in their own play.
Resilient individuals are not overwhelmed by their emotional states and can manage their emotional responses. This is something infants begin learning in the first hours after they are born when they are soothed by their carer. We continue to learn this throughout our lives, but early childhood is vital in the development of self-regulation. Outdoor spaces in nature are ideal places to support the development of self-regulation. If you think about what happens when you go for a walk in a natural space when you are feeling tense. Most of us start to experience a calmness. Our breathing changes and we can develop a better perspective on our problem. This is also true of children, even when they are highly stressed or anxious. But of course, it’s not enough to send children outside to ‘sort themselves out’. A child needs the help and support of a caring and attuned individual to help achieve the calm they need to regulate their emotional state. As Dr Stuart Shanker points out in his book ‘Self Reg’ adults are very good at telling children to ‘calm down’, but when do we explain to children what that state of calm is and what it feels like? Being outside can give you opportunities to notice when children are in a calm state and point it out to them. Say to the child ‘you look calm, what does it feel like?’ This is the first step towards helping a child to manage to regulate their own emotional state. Once a child knows what ‘calm’ is, you can start to teach strategies like finding a quiet space to be alone and breathing deeply to help the child manage her big emotions. Tools such as ‘Emotion Works’ give us a curriculum through which we can help the child to name the emotions he experiences, think about what they feel like in the inside their body, understand what triggers those emotions as well as what helps them feel better. You can access these tools as well as practice example and helpful advice at www.emotionworks.org.uk.
We can model self-regulation by managing our own stress levels in front of the children. Being outside helps us as much as it helps the children to achieve a calm, alert state.
Show children how you can take three deep breaths when you are feeling tense and how you can have ownership of your own feelings by expressing them in constructive ways. We can also show children how we take responsibility for our own actions and feelings by admitting when we make a mistake and apologising when we become aware of hurting someone’s feelings or when we have misjudged a situation.
Developing Thinking Skills, Creativity and Imagination
Natural spaces for play outside are the most stimulating, challenging and calming spaces and are therefore ideal for developing thinking skills, creativity and imagination in early childhood. These are important skills for resilient individuals. Someone who has the concentration, perseverance and creativity to solve problems and to manage difficult situations is more resilient than someone who can become frustrated, agitated, confused or overwhelmed when faced with a challenge. I think the best places to develop thinking skills, creativity and imagination are outside places. As Margaret McMillan said: “The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky”.
Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. is an American psychiatrist and neuroscientist who is an expert on child trauma and neurodevelopment. He and his colleagues run the Child Trauma Academy that can be accessed at: http://childtrauma.org/
He writes about learning as ‘Experiences – repetitive, consistent, predictable and nurturing experiences – are required to express the underlying genetic potential of each child’ Bruce Perry (2000). Central to every child’s healthy development is the opportunity to act on her natural curiosity. We can support this development through fostering natural curiosity in outdoor settings. Play in nature provides all the stimulus a child needs to realise their potential. Play always brings pleasure, without pleasure it’s not play.
We can see from Perry’s learning cycle that curiosity and the pleasure of shared discovery drives the child’s learning, motivation and self-esteem. It is so easy to imagine this learning cycle outside, with attuned and responsive practitioners who can share in the child’s celebration of discovery and mastery through their play. Perry also warns that this cycle can be crushed by adults who express disapproval of a child’s curiosity or disgust about the child’s discovery. When a child doesn’t experience an adult as a secure base and is too fearful to explore and investigate the world around him, then his curiosity can also be killed. The presence of a caring and responsive adult is essential for the child’s exploration because she can provide a sense of safety from which the child can set out to discover new things. The attuned, respectful and interested adult also is a source of shared discovery. Shared discovery provides the greatest amount of pleasure in the learning cycle.
In part three the theme of building resilience through play in nature will be concluded. We will consider three more aspects of resilience: Building Confidence, Talents, Interests and Self Agency; Developing a Positive Outlook, Positive Values and Hope; and finally Encouraging Responsibility and Participation.