Many educators tell me they find planning nature play invitations difficult because they don’t have the budget for fancy resources or large nature playgrounds (who does??). OR, they just don't feel creative enough (or have the time needed) to find interesting ways to present natural materials and environments and I get that, I've had many of those thoughts too when looking through Pinterest or educational catalogues and putting together a wishlist!
But what if you just go back to simple and start with some small steps first? What could you achieve if you stopped thinking your invitations needed to be perfect or you need more space or materials before you even try? Wouldn't the children have just as much fun with a collection of differently textured leaves and colourful flowers?
Of course they would! The idea behind setting up invitations to play - especially when using natural materials is simply to ‘prompt’ children to play in different ways with different materials. Invitations can offer children the opportunity to direct their own play, follow their interests, learn more about the world around them, express themselves creatively and use their imagination to extend upon the initial invitation.
But no one said they had to be perfect or Instagram worthy. Of course they look nice...but do they invite children to explore, investigate, create, rearrange and..... PLAY?
Do Nature Play Invitations need to be complicated or expensive to setup?
What if you just kept it simple or got as creative and imaginative as you wanted to? Which approach would be the most helpful to encourage learning and meet outcomes? You know the answer don't you? Either way is right! You need to do what works for your budget, skillset, children's interests and the environments you work in.
Every educator creates learning opportunities in different ways - there is room in your program for simple and not so simple experiences, intentional and incidental moments - and that includes incorporating nature play into your day to day activities.
If you would like a little inspiration to help you get started adding nature to your invitations to play or setups then this is the blog for you because I’ve collected some of my favourite photos and experiences shared by a few of our early childhood educators from The Empowered Ed Community on Facebook The photos are not meant to frustrate you because your space and materials are different - use them for ideas here and there that you can take away, modify and make your own. Most use very simple materials ...it's just how they combine and present them. You can do that too!
Ready to take a look? Let's do it!
Nature Play Invitations - Ideas from Educators
Libby made simple paintbrushes out of sticks and leaves and then set up this invitation to paint using the colors of the Aboriginal flag.
A feast for the senses! Libby set up this amazing looking potion making invitation - look at those colours and textures straight from the garden!
In this tabletop invitation Libby introduced bowls and spoons sourced from the op shop (thrift shop) and combined them with a few natural items to invite the children to direct their own play.
A creative idea from Linda and a fun way to add 'trees' to small world play! There are so many other ways children might also choose to use them in their play!
Sue-Ellen used her mud kitchen and scraps from her vegetable garden to create this play prompt. I wonder what they are cooking up and talking about?
Dawn set up this simple invite to play using smooth stones and some wood cookie counters. Easy to modify for different ages with a little forward planning.
Amanda added natural items to her playdough prompt. I like that the playdough has not had colour added to it - this helps the children to see nature and the patterns they make as they roll and press into the dough. They start with a blank canvas to make their own!
Deb also set up this natural playdough invitation to create using a selection of greenery and other items from nature. A great way for little hands to experiment with imprints, texture, patterns and colour!
A different way to incorporate nature into active learning experiences. Sonya set up this sketching invitation using plants as the models. Another activity that is easy to modify for older and younger age groups!
Mery made this simple nature play setup offering a separate space for each child to create with and make their own... they look so inviting and ready for investigation! I can see a few bugs hidden in there too!
This idea from Jackie is so simple but looks so inviting and depending on ages the children will use the stones in different ways on their sand 'canvas'.
Nitixa used gumnuts, seed pods and earthy colours in this NAIDOC week painting invitation.
Amanda set up loose parts transient art play prompt using a mix of natural items. The children have their own 'canvas' space to create within.
The addition of some plants and wooden pieces makes this bug investigation table by Amy so much more interesting and enticing to investigate!
Janelle shared with us this photo of a setup idea for a shared event - a table to explore playdough and natural elements - something for all of the senses here. Impressive!
Jessica introduced a collection of natural items for this nature based hair dressing prompt. I recognise these printable sheets from the wonderful Mother Natured!
Shell tracing and matching shared by Amanda. Simple but interesting!
Leah set up this colourful flower and leaf investigation table. I love the addition of the billy teapot! I wonder what potions and bowls they will create?!
Another inviting yet simple way to setup playdough and nature items to prompt mark making and creativity - this display was from Amanda.
Belinda set up an outdoor cutting practice basket - an easy idea providing a challenge for little fine motor muscles and coordination!
This nature weaving invitation by Amanda looks like a fun way to explore textures, colour, creativity and smell !
Mud play is always fun and doesn't need to involve time consuming invitations to play -Brooke created this muddy truck wash activity for outside and it certainly looks like a hit!.
Natasha set up an invitation to make a compost bottle. So many opportunities for learning through active , hands on investigation and discovery here.
Tania set up this natural creative play prompt. Building, stacking, balancing, sequencing, problem solving....fun!
Amanda introduced this nature painting invitation using colours mixed from nature and twig brushes.
Brooke made these clever nature sensory bags using items the children collected on a walk. These can be a great way to introduce different textures to sensory sensitive children who might be unsure about touching new textures and natural items.
What an interesting ocean themed tray invitation from Sylvana - seashells and sea creatures.
Amanda set up a great dinosaur small world using rocks in a circular tray. For added fun she made some volcanoes using bicarb and the children exploded them with red vinegar!
Kaylene turned a water play boat into a fairy garden for the children to explore and play with in different ways.
We did something similar in the backyard with a herby fairy garden using old wheelbarrows.
Michelle added rocks and shells to her water play (along with some play fish so they could go fishing!)
Linda set up this simple flower sketching prompt.
Amanda set up this beautiful flower invitation to play using colours from nature and a circular tray.
Lisa introduced a simple but interesting number exploration invite to play and count using natural items.
Lisa also set up this inviting fine motor name writing prompt using a sand box and name cards.
Selina added some scales and pumpkins to make this simple weighing invitation to play. Many opportunities for playful learning here!
Amanda shared this snipping and fine motor invitation using playdough, rosemary and leaves.
Carissa set up a build a flower prompt using old flowers - you could ask parents to donate flowers when they have finished with them or go on a walk around the neighbourhood together to see what treasures you can find!.
A simple water colour flower painting prompt from Amanda. Those bowls add such a lovely visual perspective to this invitation and every masterpiece will be unique according to the child's own expression of creativity and how they see the flowers before them.
Deb used cloud dough and some natural items as a textured provocation idea. This invitation would work well with my sensory moon sand recipe too. Find it here.
Michelle added some magnifying glasses to create this invitation to explore and investigate.
Sharon presented colourful flowers and herbs in a different way by freezing them - the perfect sensory invitation for a hot day!
Feeling inspired now to set up your own invitations to play incorporating elements from nature? Take a photo of your play and share with other educators in our Empowered Educator Free Facebook Community - we love to see your wonderful work!
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.