Open-ended play teaches resourcefulness and lateral thinking


I hear alot of people going on about what ‘nature deficit’ is doing to kids these days, but I think they’re missing the point somehow. Since when did nature have the monopoly on rich play experiences? A rubbish tip or old building site would probably hold just as much interest, engagement and richness in terms of play as an woodland setting would. Ah but you don’t like the sound of those environments do you? They speak of dirty, rat-infested and dangerous to you, places where people in developing countries might inhabit, not nice, pristine, and most importantly ‘green’. This thinking is middle-class, educated twaddle, that makes adults feel safe in and more importantly ‘good’ about themselves – it doesn’t provide for better play environments for kids in itself.

Now I’m not advocating that children go and play in rubbish tips and I’m not saying that natural environments are bad for children’s play. What I’m saying is that the argument espoused by Richard Louv and his followers is as narrow-minded as the argument for safe playgrounds. Children are much smarter than that. You only have to looks at the photo of kids playing on the streets of post-war Kensington in London to see that – they were poor and as a result resourceful and industrious. We all know the cardboard box analogy (you know where kids enjoy playing with the box, more than the expensive toy that was in it) well this is no different. These kids had no trees often, no grass or pretty dry-creek bed, but they’re play was rich and imaginative because they had one key element that kids today don’t have and that is the freedom of independence.

creative, child-lead, open-ended play experiences = successful early years learning = lateral and resourceful future adult leaders

In my opinion, this should be the centre of the argument…how do we provide children with the experiences needed to teach them resourcefulness and lateral thinking? This are the critical skills that build a better future world for us filled with adults who are able to think outside the square and resolve complex issues with creative strategies – not just cover it with grass.

As a result of this ‘Nature Deficit’ scare campaign (because it is a little like the ‘Child Safety’ campaign – making parents and educators feel obliged to participate in the fervour or they’re not being responsible) pre-schools, schools and local councils are now producing designed, templates of natural spaces, many with none of the ramshackleness and organic growth of nature…..the reality being of course that they’re not actually natural at all, rather they are contrived spaces using natural materials. These spaces in effect can end up being as souless as their treated-pine or steel counterparts of old, if not ‘lived-in’ and appropriated well.

Follow the link below to read the full article on the Post-war bomb-site playgrounds of London: