It’s not just children who need play, argues Fiona Harrower, Visitor Experience Manager at Hatfield Forest.
Virtually all of my favourite childhood memories involve playing outdoors. Even now, when I’m meant to be grown-up, I still can’t resist a puddle or balancing along a fallen tree.
For the last couple of years we have celebrated the national Play Day at Hatfield Forest with one goal: to encourage play with no play equipment. With a thousand acres of woodland and grassy plains to explore this should have been a realistic challenge.
Or at least you would have thought so.
But I’ve noticed that many of our visiting parents are desperate for a trail to follow, a map to highlight where to play, actual trees and logs signposted as okay to play on. Whereas their children, when allowed to just play freely, are quite happy to find their own spots, make their own games and use their imagination.
So our role is to teach the parents how to play in the outdoors, as the kids are experts at it already. With a large number of veteran trees, we have an added challenge of balancing the promotion of natural play with the conservation of Hatfield Forest.
The 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4 campaign has helped us to promote our no need for play equipment message, by giving us a tool to spark families’ imagination. The scrapbooks, and even more so the stickers, are a big hit. Our top play activities at Hatfield Forest are tree climbing, den building, making grass trumpets, exploring inside a tree and making mud pies. We hold Wild Wednesdays throughout the summer holidays and have over 150 children participating each week.
But play isn’t limited to Wednesdays only; it’s something we promote every day.
Play is one of the simplest ways to get kids outdoors. The health benefits are clear. Ask a child if they want to go on a five mile hike and you may get a moan, but spend hours running through long grass, climbing trees and building dens and they won’t notice they’re ‘exercising’.
Play is a universal way of connecting people to the outdoors. It’s something children intrinsically know what to do. We just need to give adults the permission to play too.