Welcome to Green Hearts!
           Nature Play

Green Hearts' work is based on the proven power
of nature play
to spark life-long conservation values.

What Is Nature Play? 

    What do you remember about your childhood nature play?  Millions of Americans fondly recall playing outdoors in natural settings, doing things like: 

  • Building tree houses;
  • Catching frogs and      fireflies;   
  • Splashing in creeks;        
  • Daydreaming in a special       hiding place; or
  • Digging holes “to China.” 

    These activities are all nature play:  unstructured childhood play in “wild” areas, whether it’s the vacant lot next door, the local neighborhood park, or the “back forty” of your farm.  

    At its very best, nature play isn’t scheduled, planned, or led by adults, nor is it confined by grown-ups’ rules.  Instead, it’s open-ended, free-time exploration and recreation, without close adult supervision.  For many of us, this sort of nature play virtually defined our childhoods.

Why Is Nature Play Important?

    There is a growing body of research data about the multiple positive impacts of nature play on children’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being.  Richard Louv has done a great job of reviewing these benefits in his best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.


        However, for Green Hearts' 
    mission the most valuable
    impact of nature play is on
    conservation.  Multiple studies
    in several countries, over more
    than 25 years, have found
    that frequent, unstructured
    childhood play in natural
    spaces is the most common
    influence on the development
    of life-long conservation values
    and conservation behaviors.  

        Thus, for the task of
    building greater future societal
    support for conservation, 
    frequent nature play is more
    powerful than formal  
    education, participation in
    youth groups, or even the influence of parents and other mentors.  Nature play is strong stuff!

The Challenges to Nature Play

    Unfortunately, many factors are converging to make nature play increasingly rare in American childhoods, including:

  •  Less children's access to unregulated green spaces       where they can freely play;
  •  Growing parental fears of letting children play       outdoors without close supervision;
  •  The growing allure and availability of plugged-in play;
  •  Longer school days and more homework; and
  •  The trend to over-schedule children in structured,              adult-led activities.

     The unhappy result is that most American children no longer enjoy regular nature play.  In fact, one study found that our children now spend an average of just 30 minutes per week in unstructured outdoor play.

The Environmental Impacts of Vanishing 

Nature Play

    Nature play has been found to be the most common influence on the development of adult conservation values.  Now it is fading away.  Without the lasting impacts of nature play, what will guide future generations into cherishing the natural world?

    Many people believe that increased amounts of formal
environmental education might lead to more wise conservation behavior in our society.  Unfortunately, research shows that the lasting conservation impacts of school-based environmental education are limited, at best.  In fact, broader research finds that learning is not a prime determinant of most human behavior.  Instead, many other factors drive our behavior, with our emotions and immediate needs often being the most powerful ones.

    As a conservation organization, Green Hearts’ ultimate aim is to help make conservation behaviors a dominant value in American culture.  To achieve this, we believe that we must find ways to put nature back into children’s hearts, not just into their brains.  Nature play is the key to this challenge.

Restoring Nature Play

    Nature play can be brought back!  First we must expand public understanding of the importance of nature play -- an effort that is now underway across the United States.  Then we must develop and implement structured (and hence replicable) ways of bringing unstructured nature play back to childhood.

    Green Hearts is certain that this can be done, using methods such as:
    * New approaches to neighborhood design and home
    * The creation of schoolyard nature play areas;
    * Development of nature play areas within community
           parks; and
    * The expansion of nature preschools, where young
          children enjoy daily play and explorations in green

    Green Hearts was founded to help lead the way in this work.  To learn more about how we are doing this, please review the "Services" portion of this website.

A Parents' Guide to Nature Play

Nature Play -- Nurturing Children and Strengthening
        Conservation through Connections to the Land

Nurturing Nature Play:  Ten Tips for Parents

But...but...but...Isn't It Dangerous?
        Risk and Reward in Nature Play

Respite in Shades of Green -- Nature May be the Ultimate
        Therapist's Couch

What Can a Child Do in Nature?  101 Ideas

Reinforcing the Thin Green Line:  Are New Approaches to
Nature Play Forging Powerful Bonds with Nature?

Nature Play as an Everyday Joy of Childhood?
        For Kids, Frequency Requires Proximity

Nature Play Factoids

Green Hearts' Favorite Nature Play Quotes

Green Hearts' Design Principles for Nature Play Spaces

Early Childhood Resources for Nature Play

Podcasts:  Green Hearts' Ken Finch chats about nature play
        1.  4C of Southern Indiana -- "The Voice of Quality
               Child Care" -- 42 minutes
        2.  The Wilderness Center, OH -- "Wild Ideas" --
               25 minutes  (Note:  nature play begins at 9
               minutes, 50 seconds into the program; use
               progress bar to skip forward)
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