With spring just around the corner, Susie Robbins sees opportunities for outside play.

[New City Magazine – March 2022, page 20]

Spring is the most hopeful season, bringing with it the promise of a fresh start and new beginnings. It also cradles all the healing properties of nature, mending any damage caused by the cold, harsh winter. For these reasons I think that spring naturally lends itself to playfulness. When we think of spring we think of gambolling lambs, cheerful daffodils waving in the breeze and a cascade of blossom confetti falling from the trees. All these images contain an element of movement, of action. ‘Play’ is a verb, an action word, it is something that we do. Play doesn’t simply happen to us, we create play. Here are some ideas for harnessing the energy of this playful season and using it to inspire the way we create moments of play with our children.

Spring’s greatest joy beyond a doubt, is when it brings the children out.
(America poet Edgar Guest)

When in doubt, take them out!

As the days warm up, perhaps we can be tempted to spend more time outdoors and surrounded by nature, noticing how spring is unfurling before us and seeing all the patterns this process creates. We can experience the benefits found through science. For example looking at natural fractals (patterns found in nature such as on tree bark, or of a fern) can sooth areas of the brain and increase our production of the feel-good hormone dopamine, reducing stress levels by up to 60%!

Some other activities that help our bodies:

Jumping in muddy puddles – studies have proven that Mycobacterium Vaccae (naturally occurring bacterium found in soil), stimulates our production of serotonin.

Climbing trees – we know physical exercise can improve our mood.

Flying a kite – fresh air helps our white blood cells to work better, increasing the efficiency of our immune system to fight bacteria and viruses.

Whilst all of this research is compelling, and going outside is free, the benefits are not just for children but also for adults. We can all live playfully and we don’t need toys to do so.

Sensory play

Sensory play does not have to be messy play – the two are not one and the same. Sensory play is any play that stimulates one or more of the senses and spring is a fantastic time to start. On a warm day you can take your play outside, if you’re playing with natural ingredients such as oats or birdseed, flour or flowers then you won’t need to worry about any spills in terms of mess or harming the environment.

Have you ever made ooblek? No! Here’s how:

Take two cups of cornflour and mix with one cup of water – the result is an extraordinary substance that is hard like a solid under pressure, and fluid like a liquid when not. To this you could add some petals from a bunch of wilted flowers to create meadow ooblek. You could sit in the warmth of the sunshine and take a mindful moment to notice how it feels on your skin and how you feel within yourself in that moment.

Numeracy play

Spring is teeming with a wealth of beauty and patterns to see. Why not spend a few minutes drawing a scavenger hunt sheet, or bingo grid to take with you on a walk – Can you spot 5 daffodils, 3 blue tits or 1 bird’s nest? Look carefully and we can spot shapes too: circles in the centre of a flower, the rings of a tree trunk or a hollow in a tree, spirals in a snail shell, a seedling that is yet to unfurl or a spiders web.

Sibling play

Entertaining siblings is hard at the best of times but if you are able to get them outdoors then it is much easier than staying indoors where tempers are more likely to fray. Encourage your children to work together as a team – this may involve taking a step back as the adult, and trusting them to make good decisions (be on hand to step in if necessary).

Can they work together to build a den or dam a little stream? Perhaps your children can help you to plant up some bulbs or vegetables for the garden or windowsill garden. Working together on a project and having what is known as a joint focus is so valuable as a tool for increasing concentration, learning to give and follow instructions, increase vocabulary, problem solve, negotiate, compromise and increase a sense of camaraderie and satisfaction.

Spring may be messy in places, with April showers and muddy boots, but isn’t family life a bit messy too? I leave you with a quote from Margaret Atwood, one of my favourite authors:

At the end of the day, in Spring, you should smell like dirt.

Photo: © courtesy of Susannah Robbins

See also: www.resolvetoplay.com

Read the 1st part of this series: Play theory

Read the 2nd part of this series: Learning through play

Read the 3rd part of this series: Baby play

Read the 4th part of this series: Purposeful praise

Read the 5th part of this series: Resilience

Read the 6th part of this series: Summer Play

Read the 7th part of this series: School ready

Read the 8th part of this series: Tantrums

Read the 9th part of this series: Festive fun without feeling frazzled

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