creative green for children
creative green for children

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Free play for nature and children

Over the years the authors have visited all kinds of playgrounds, in various shapes and sizes, both in the Netherlands and surrounding countries, and the book, with appealing pictures and inspiring text, gives an impression of what they encountered. With book the authors aim to inspire and provide practical information, to make way for more natural, adventurous play grounds for children.

In the book ‘Vrij spel voor natuur en kinderen’ the authors make a plea for more natural, adventurous play areas for children. When asked about their childhood memories and favourite free time activities, many adults recall playing outside, in nature: climbing trees, playing on ‘vacant lots’, building huts in trees and bushes, roaming about, etc. Nowadays this is not a common picture any longer, a development which alarmed the American journalist Richard Louv and caused him to write a book on this subject. “I like to play indoors better ´cause that’s where all the electric outlets are’”, reports a child interviewed by Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. Never before in history have children been so plugged in –and so out of touch with the natural world. There are many reasons why this has become reality, as Louv convincingly and substantially showes, one of them being that access to natural areas simply has decreased dramatically over the last decades. From research we know that nature is important for children – for their development and wellbeing - and we also know that children increasingly are disconnected from nature. It’s time we start focussing on restoring the connecting.
The book ‘Vrij spel voor natuur en kinderen’ wants to show ways how to turn the tides when it comes to areas for natural play. It presents a wide range of practical examples, both in the Netherlands and abroad. The authors describe all kinds of natural play areas, in connection to botanical gardens, school gardens, forests, parks, and public urban spaces - each of them having own possibilities and challenges.
The first chapter Free play used to be common presents general background information; the history of school gardens, pioneers in nature education, the foundation of Springzaad, a network organisation of teachers, horticulturists, eco-designers, city planners, environmental educators, engaged in creating and designing more adventurous, natural play grounds for children. This chapter also describes a wide range of unconventional ‘green’ free zones at schools, day care centres, teacher training institutions, nature playgrounds, both in cities and on the country side. One best practice example highlighted in the book is the southernmost town Maastricht, which because of its unique integral approach has been successful in bringing together (urban) nature conservation, environmental education en nature recreation.
The second chapter School examples in the Netherlands presents an overview of several best practices in connection to schools, day care centres, parks and nature areas throughout the Netherlands. And you might get surprised by the diversity of inspiring projects realized throughout the country.
In chapter three The endless possibilities of adventurous play and learning the authors have gone abroad, searching for sources of inspiration in the neighbouring countries. They went to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and England, and judged by all the examples they’ve gathered their search has not been in vain! Though not meant to be exhaustive, the examples they present give an impression of driving forces and inspiring play grounds in the different countries they’ve visited.
Chapter four Living with nature- learning about nature the Dutch renown pedagogue and naturalist Kees Both reflects on the issue of children, nature and play. Quoting from scientific literature he pleads for the creation of more natural play grounds for children, necessary both for enhancing their wellbeing and their learning capabilities.
The last chapter A suitcase filled with images and ideas offers a wide range of practical suggestions, inspiring examples, suggestions for planning, do’s and don’ts, security aspects, etc. -  all aspects to be taken into account when designing a challenging, adventurous playground for children. This richly illustrated chapter provides many concrete suggestions, zooming in on many aspects involved in creating a rich, varied, natural area for learning and playing: the use of water, sand, stones, trees (for climbing, building, and hiding), loose elements, bushes, flowers, fruits, herbs and kitchen gardens, keeping animals, ‘insect hotel’, outdoor cooking, building with clay and straw, art in nature, sound art, outdoor classroom, etc. Many suggestions for different age groups, stages of development and personal interests: the builder, the explorer, the scientist, the cook, the artist. Rich natural play areas not only enhance playing, but also learning, and offer many possibilities to broaden the perspective in science education, history lessons, geography, language, mathematics.
An inspiring book conveying the message: children need and deserve rich, varied playgrounds, and in creating them only our imagination sets the limits. With references to websites, persons to contact, and relevant literature.

Vrij spel voor natuur en kinderen – Free play for nature and children. Authors: Willy Leufgen and Marianne van Lier. Publisher: Jan van Arkel, 2007, 251 pages, richly illustrated. ISBN 978 90 6224 470 6. € 20,- (available in Dutch only).

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