Nothing Beats Nature For Baby Play

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Nature play is making a comeback. There are so many developmental benefits of nature play for children and it’s exciting to see how playgroups are engaging in it. But how do we include babies in nature play? 

Children have a natural instinct to bond with nature and from the earliest of beginnings, they will seek out any opportunity to explore nature. It’s a natural response, you place a baby down on the grass at the park and the first thing they do is start picking up leaves, pulling at the grass, and playing in the dirt. They start exploring.

Here at Playgroup SA, we are regularly being asked “how do we include babies in nature play?” Well, we’re here to tell you that it’s really easy and all it takes is some imagination and supervision.

Nature play for babies helps build both fine and motor skills, along with assisting with cognitive development. Little direction is required with nature play and the best thing you can do is provide the natural elements and then let them experiment.

Nature Trays

Set up a tray with some dirt (free from small debris) and large plastic animals and allow small hands to explore the texture of the dirt and bang, bury and re-discover the animals through the dirt. If you don’t have room for grass, why not turn an old tyre or plastic wading pool into a planter with grass and allow small hands and feet to explore the feel of grass. You can add in animals or trucks and cars to make the environment more interesting.

Nature ‘feely’ box

Go for a hunt through your local community or park and find larger items of interest such as large dried leaves, sticks with rough and smooth exteriors, pine cones, feathers or moss. Then place them in a box and allow babies to pull out and feel the different objects.

Leaves and flowers

Pop a variety of leaves and flowers in between 2 sheets of clear contact and seal together. You can then place these on the wall down low for babies to explore and touch, or tape to the floor for easy access.

Snack time

Allow babies to experience snack time outside. They can listen to the different sounds and watch the busy world of wildlife around them. Let the babies pick at the grass with their bare hands or take their shoes off and feel the grass between their toes. You could also use this time to run leaves, flowers of feathers up and down their arms and legs and let them enjoy the different feelings from the different textures.


Place some flower petals or a variety of leaves into a water play tray and let babies swirl them around while watching flowers float about in the water.

Messy nature play

At many of Playgroup SA’s events, we have incorporated nature messy play by simply placing tubs of sand or mud out for babies to use their hands to explore the texture of natural materials. But it doesn’t always stop there, we’ve also seen many young babies climb into the tubs and really enjoy the experience.

When providing nature play for babies, there are so many options available but always remember to offer them larger items to play with that don’t pose a choking hazard, as with babies…all things tend to go in the mouth.

By Carley Jones

This article was originally published in State of Play, Issue Two, September 2016