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Mud pie memories

There are endless spots in the Adelaide Hills where families can explore nature play opportunities

Catching yabbies, building cubby houses, making mud pies and digging for worms.
These are just a few of the fond childhood memories many generations will look back on with a warm sense of nostalgia.
But with children spending more time on screens, playing video games and engaging in other sedentary activities, will today’s young people look back on their childhoods with the same fondness?
Father-of-two and author Jason Tyndall fears they might not.
“If you ask any adult what were some fun things they did as a kid, their eyes will light up and they’ll tell you how they built cubbies or swum in dams – they did all this stuff,” he says.
“Are our kids’ eyes going to light up in 20 years’ time when we ask them about their childhood?
“Knowing the power we have, not only for our children’s lives today but in the future, is really important. We’re building their memories and we’re building their sense of place.
“We’re not going to look back and wish that we kept our children inside more or that our children did more homework. We’re going to wish our children spent more time outside.”
Nature play – defined as free and unstructured play in nature – is increasing in popularity among Australian schools and early education centres.


It can be as simple as climbing trees, splashing in puddles or looking for tadpoles in the local creek and, according to Jason, it’s the key to feeding the wellbeing of young people.
As the General Manager of Nature Play SA, an organisation that encourages communities to engage with nature, Jason is well versed in the many benefits of children playing outdoors and learning through nature.
As a father of two young daughters he regularly takes them on outings to parks, national parks and reserves to explore, play and create.
“What’s really important to understand is that play is learning and it gives children the tools they need for school, life skills, socialising and full sensory development,” Jason says.
“We’re bringing back and changing the way children play and interact, with a strong emphasis on being outside. I’ve seen some great examples in schools and some great examples in my own family unit.
“My daughter, who is now eight, often reflects on how she feels different outside. She tells me, ‘Dad, I don’t know why but I feel so much calmer outside’. That’s such an important thing.”
According to a report published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2016, the majority of Aussie children are spending more than the recommended two-hour daily limit for screen time.
The report also found up to 30% of a child’s waking time was spent in front of screen. So how did we get here?
“A couple of reasons,” suspects Jason.
“One is that mum and dad are working more than they’ve ever worked.
“As kids, when we finished school we threw our school bag down and off we went outside. Whereas today, when children get home, they’re doing homework, they’re going to sports or they’re doing other structured things. Because of that we’ve seen a change in statistics around obesity, anxiety and sedentary behaviour.
“Children are spending less time outside and it’s having a constant impact.”
The solution, Jason says, is to start small.


Parents and carers looking for local spots to explore the outdoors with their children and build appreciation for nature can look no further than their own backyard.
Engaging young people in the beauty of nature can be as simple as growing herbs and veggies in pots or eating family dinners outside.
One of Jason’s tips for parents with small backyards or balconies is to create a play space with simple tools and ingredients that encourage kids to get their hands dirty and explore natural materials.
“It doesn’t matter what environment we have, it doesn’t have to be big. Go to an op shop and get some pots, pans and utensils and set up a bit of a play space. Add some sand, water, and things like mint, rosemary and lavender, and children can crush them up.
“What you’ll get is a really rich experience for children, they’ll be grinding, mixing and enjoying time outside.”
There are endless spots in the Adelaide Hills where families can explore nature play opportunities, including Mt Lofty and Wittunga botanic gardens, Kuitpo Forest and the pine forests at Mt Crawford.
A popular miniature fairy garden at the Deanery Reserve near Bridgewater offers kids a magical experience with small fairy figurines scattered throughout and hidey-holes, branches, leaves and mud puddles to explore.
Many schools are also supporting increased efforts to connect children with the environment.
One Hills school that has long embraced outdoor learning is The Hills Montessori School, based at Aldgate and Stirling.
Assistant principal Susan Harris Evans says nature play is not a new concept to the independent school that embeds outdoor learning within its curriculum.
“Learning from nature has always been and should be part of what occurs in a Montessori learning environment,” she says.
“Maria Montessori (founder of the Montessori method
of education) said there must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand,
appreciate the order, harmony and the beauty in nature.
“The Montessori curriculum is very much looking at the interconnectedness of all life on earth. We’re very much an evolutionary science-based curriculum and looking at the interrelationships between animals, plants and climate and so forth. They (children) therefore respect and learn the science of nature and understand the importance of caring for it.”
Susan says reflecting on Indigenous culture and practices is also a part of students’ learning experiences outside as well as exploring nature plants the Peramangk and Kaurna people incorporated into everyday life.
Other nature play experiences have included learning about invertebrates by heading into the outdoors, making art from natural materials collected on the school grounds, and heading on exhibitions in the nearby bush.
“The majority of children by far really just love to spend that time outside,” Susan says.
“Sometimes we’ll do our relaxation time outside lying on a rug and looking at the clouds going overhead and just breathing. Students regularly do their maths outside or reading in groups and writing poetry under beautiful trees to seek inspiration.
“Being in the outdoors … appreciating a beautiful space and aesthetic really helps with wellbeing, concentration and preparedness to work.”

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