Natural Play Project
The Natural Play Project (NPP) is a Transylvania County-based initiative that provides free nature-based educational programming and access to outdoor play spaces for young children and their families. Responding to the needs of Transylvania County that were identified in the 2015 “State of the Young Child” report, the NPP offers natural play opportunities in the community. Natural play can take on many forms, but at its core, it is children engaged in self-directed, imaginative play outside in spaces that include elements of the natural world, such as sticks, sand, plants, and water.
The NPP provides educational programming and access to outdoor spaces for young children and their families and highlights the important short and long-term benefits of getting children comfortable and joyful outdoors. The NPP delivers educational materials and resources to parents, and provides opportunities for children to experience the cognitive, emotional, academic, and health benefits of getting outside for active play through events and playdates.
Playdates are facilitated, developmentally appropriate natural play experiences for young children with their parent/caregiver. Playdates provide an opportunity for children to connect with nature, play together and with their caregiver, and to participate in structured educational activities. They also provide opportunities for parents/caregivers to connect and build community.
Today children experience less self-directed play and less time outside and connected with nature than ever before. Research shows that these activities have very positive and important impacts on children’s development and health. Here are just a few research-supported reasons natural play is important (from NC State’s Natural Learning Initiative):
- Supports Problem-Solving. Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual development.
- Increases Physical Activity. Children who experience school grounds with diverse natural settings are more physically active, more aware of nutrition, more civil to each other, and more creative.
- Reduces Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Symptoms. Contact with the natural world can significantly reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder in children as young as five years old.
The Natural Play Project aims to create more accessible structured opportunities for young children and families of our community to engage with the natural world and with each other. There is significant research demonstrating that time in and connection to nature has direct and positive effects on academic success, physical and mental health, and cognitive and social skills, as well as creating social cohesion. For a survey of this research please view the “Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature” fact sheet created by the Natural Learning Initiative, as well as a “Research Brief” summarizing research on the naturalization of early childhood outdoor learning environments. A comprehensive review of the ample scientific literature on the various benefits of increased contact with the natural world for children can be found here.
The Natural Play Project is a member of Get Set Transylvania, a ground-breaking early childhood interagency initiative created to provide resources for families with children ages 0-5. The NPP is an active collaboration between Mountain Sun Community School, Rise and Shine, El Centro, The Family Place, Brevard Music Center, and The United Way of Transylvania County. During its pilot year of programs the NPP served 435 families and young children through community events, parent presentations, and playdates.
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