Jeffers Foundation


A Parent's Guide to Nature Play

A Note to Parents about Nature Play:

Ken Finch
Ken Finch

All parents want the best for their children, but in this media age it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information about just what that "best" really means. Our kids can be similarly overwhelmed by too much information, whether from more and more testing in schools, a constant diet of raucous television, or the over-stimulation of many video games.

Amidst this stress and rush of modern life, it is vital that children have the chance to simply play. Not just play that adults control or design, but rather play done on their own terms -- using their own ideas, initiative, and make believe. Most American adults fondly recall that kind of childhood play, when they made up games with their friends, built forts or tree houses, decorated mud pies with acorns and flowers, or just mucked around in the nearby woods. This "child-directed" play is tremendously valuable for children's healthy development. It sparks creativity, discovery, wonder, exploration, experimentation, physical activity, imagination, and even intellectual learning. Free, unstructured play is not wasted time! It is a vital part of growing up -- and we need to be sure that our children are getting enough of it!

Thankfully, creative play comes easily to kids. Most of us have witnessed the fun that young children can have playing with kitchen utensils, sugar packets on a restaurant table, or the empty boxes left over from holiday presents. A child's fertile mind can easily turn simple items like these into engaging toys! All kids really need for good play is time, a little freedom, and a place with a good supply of flexible resources.

The very finest places for creative, beneficial childhood play offer lots of things to discover, collect, experiment with, and manipulate. It's even better if those places change every single day! Such magical play settings exist all around us: they are called "nature," and these places don't have to be sought in special parks or refuges. Instead, young children can find endless wonders and delights -- on their own small scale -- in even the simplest outdoor settings such as your yard, an apartment courtyard, or a tiny neighborhood park. Even better, these are places that children can visit day after day, with no need to use the family car or employ your household chauffeur (who is undoubtedly you!)

This free-form "nature play" is good for children in so many ways: physically, emotionally, socially, creatively, and even spiritually. But there's another crucial effect of frequent nature play: it helps children to feel comfortable in "wild" settings, and guides them towards a lasting love affair with the outdoors. That love can lead them into a life full of nature-based adventure, recreation, relaxation, and renewal - all underlain by deep, personal care for the natural world. And fostering care for our planet is something all parents should embrace, since our children and grandchildren will never have the best in life if the world they live in is ugly, dangerous, or unhealthy.

This website and the included booklet, A Parents' Guide to Nature Play, can help you raise healthy, happy children who deeply care about the environment. Thankfully, no massive undertaking is needed; you have plenty to do already! Instead, the Parents' Guide and other resources on this site are intended to make it easy. You don't need to be a master gardener, a skilled naturalist, or a science teacher. You simply need to provide your kids with the dedicated time and place to play and explore outside, in settings that seem a little bit wild to their young eyes!

So please, nudge your children outdoors, more often than you have before. Turn off the electron-powered play for awhile, and open the door to child-powered nature play!

With sincere appreciation for all you do as caring parents,
Ken Finch, Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood

A Parents' Guide to Nature Play

"For countless generations, nature play has been a defining part of childhood. Yet only recently have we begun to grasp its powerful and positive impacts on children's healthy growth and development." Thus begins Ken Finch's timely essay on why Nature Play matters. It is only one of several important essays produced by Ken and his colleagues at Green Hearts Inc and published in the booklet "A Parents' Guide to Nature Play" which Jeffers has the privilege of printing and sharing with the public.

In this booklet one can find interesting essays such as "Three Keys for Great Nature Play", how to "Kidscape Your Yard", "Play as a Family" and lots of helpful resources. It is designed to be easily read and used as a guide for folks who want to help youngsters everywhere gain a deeper appreciation for the outdoors and experience the marvels of playing in natural surroundings.

Booklets are available for parents and parent groups and Jeffers can provide a workshop for interested groups with copies of the booklet for all as well as other helpful items and ideas. Just click on the "Free Resources" button and let us know what you�d like to do.



Free Resources


Ken Finch is the Founder and President of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, one of the country's first nonprofit conservation organizations entirely focused on restoring and strengthening the bonds between children and nature. Based in Omaha, Nebraska - but working nationwide - Green Hearts teaches, speaks, writes and consults about the power and importance of nature-based play.

Ken has been working in environmental education for over 35 years, and holds a masters degree in that field. He has served as the Director of two of the country's largest nature centers, as a middle manager for two children's museums, and as the Minnesota State Director for the National Audubon Society. Among his extensive volunteer service has been a term as national President of the Association of Nature Center Administrators.

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