In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we chat with Jenny Leibham, Nature Preschool Coach and Founder of Nature Play Lifestyle. Jenny shares with us the benefits of incorporating more outdoor play into your classroom and how educators and families can address their concerns about outdoor play with young children.
Benefits of Spending More Time Outside with Children
- Increased Spatial Awareness. When you explore outside at a young age you’re more aware of your own body and the environment around you. This translates later in life to better balance and a better sense of awareness around you.
- Increased Energy. When exploring outside, kids are more inclined to be more in tune with their environment and observe more. This takes a lot of energy and oftentimes children will have increased energy outside.
- More Respect for the Natural World. By spending more time outside at a young age, children are more likely to understand the respect for the outside world and our need as humans for the outside elements.
As a Nature Preschool Coach, Jenny provides caregivers and families with resources, tools and consultations on how to safely facilitate outdoor play.
Jenny encourages families and educators to explore going outside even if the play is unstructured. Unstructured play and having children run around in circles outside is okay, and having children tune into one activity in a corner outside alone is okay too!
When children have the ability to risk-take when they’re young, they’re able to be able to regulate themselves when they’re older to know what’s feels ok for them and navigate that for themselves.Jenny Leibham
Jenny continues that educators or families that may be a bit hesitant to take children outside or are stumped for ideas to bring out toys from the inside. This is a great way to continue learning and the same can be said for bringing natural elements inside! She also recommends exploring the “why” behind your concerns. For example, if you’re concerned that a child may hit themselves or someone else with a stick, break down the “why” behind this to determine how you can prevent that accident and set expectations- such as clearly outlining the boundaries before an accident occurs.
Episode 253- Transcripts
Why are you scared of stick play? Why are you scared to take children outside? What are your hesitations about that? Ask yourself why you have those feelings and then finding out what you can do.
Jenny, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Hi, thank you for having me!
We are delighted to have on the show today Jenny Leibham. She is a nature preschool coach, And we’re going to talk to her today about nature play. And Jenny, tell us a little bit about you.
Perfect. Yes, my name is Jenny Leibham, like you mentioned. I am a nature preschool lover, nature preschool teacher and advocate, nature play enthusiast. And I am a lover of puddle jumping and tree climbing.
Ooh, puddle jumping and tree climbing, I like that. I loved tree climbing as a child. Yeah, it’s funny how you get a bit older and now I’m like, “I would never climb a tree. That seems like a dangerous thing to do.”
I feel the same way, but it’s still really fun.
Yeah, I believe it, I believe it. It’s been so long, I don’t even remember what it feels like. So, you are into outdoor education, of course. Tell us what a typical day looks like in your quote-unquote classroom.
Yeah, so our classroom does not have any walls. Our classroom is the trees. And the ceiling is the canopy and the sky. In our class space, it’s very child-led and full of emergent curriculum. So, we follow the child’s lead: whatever they’re interested in learning about, we help support them in building that interest through provocations.
So, a typical day is basically spending the whole day outdoors, rain or shine. We’re out there and the kids are exploring, discovering, playing in the mud kitchen. They’re building forts, playing fairies and building some beautiful little tree cookie families together.
So, a typical day is just that and going on nature walks and just spending as much time as we can together, building that community and offering a safe space for families and children to create and engage in the natural world.
Very cool. And what do you find are the benefits to outdoor play? A lot of childcare programs, of course, would have opportunities to be outside, but not necessarily for the full day or for extended periods of time. What do you find are the benefits to that?
Ah, there’s so many. And I love this question so much because I feel like I could go on and on about just what I see every single day with the children I care for. And just the way that I was raised in the natural world, I spent hours outside as a kid.
So, when I think about children that I care for and I think about their growth, I see how the natural world helps them with fine motor skills, helps them build that gross motor development. There’s actually a child in my class that was really scared of taking any risk. And when they were able to climb on a log that we had in our class space, the joy that they felt and the confidence that they felt in themself and the pride is so there.
So, we see these benefits every single day with social-emotional development as that child is able to share with another kid like, “Hey, give my body space,” or, “I’m not feeling safe when you’re that close to my body,” as well as just the child practicing that risk and building that confidence in themselves.
And problem solving. Like, problem solving is a huge thing we see every day where they try something out and it doesn’t work and then they try it again. So, we see this in action and we see how children are able to work together and collaborate and engage with one another. And you’ll see that in a normal indoor classroom, as well. But I feel like when we’re outside, you can use all of your senses at once.
I mean, for me, I just like love laying in grass. I feel so grounded when I lay in grass and I see that with the children, as well. And that’s just something that you can’t get when you’re inside. But you can definitely seek it on the sidewalk or even in a city park, if that’s something that you choose to do, as well.
Yeah, it’s one of those things where – I don’t know if there’s any scientific research behind this or not – but like there’s almost like an obvious thing when kids are outside, they have more energy and are sort of more engaged in things.
And even adults, too, I think. I mean, especially during this global pandemic, I think everybody has kind of had the experience where they’re feeling pretty claustrophobic and low-energy. And then you go outside, you get some sun and some fresh air, and all of a sudden you have some revived energy. Is that something that you find as well outside with preschool children?
Oh my gosh, 100%. The parents will come to us and say that their child falls asleep on their way home just because of that energy being able to be let out. And there is research that goes behind this, too. Children Nature Network puts out some amazing resources for educators just to focus on that research of the benefits that go into outdoor play and why it’s valuable for children.
But yes, we see it every day. And the families let us know, too, just how much they value that space for their child to be able to engage with the natural world and be able to really be themselves in nature. And that’s how I felt as a child. I felt very unseen in the school. But when I was outside, I felt like the smartest person because I could just explore and discover and do it my own way.
Why do you think that you’ve been able to stay connected to that experience you had as a child, spending time in nature? Because I think that’s another thing that you lose connection with I feel like, over time, because I can kind of recall some of those experiences as a child, feeling really connected with nature. And now it’s a bit more difficult to get those connections. And I don’t know if that’s because I’m living in the city or what have you. But just curious to get your thoughts on that.
Yeah, I think for me it’s always been a part of who I am. The natural world has something that really just feeds my soul. I always knew that I wanted to be outside and teach outdoors. I just didn’t know that was a job until later on in my life.
But I think the biggest thing that I see is I used to feel like I had to go to nature; I had to go to the forest in order for me to connect with nature. I also live in the city and for a long time, that’s how I always felt: I had to drive to the mountains to just connect. And what I slowly realized – and it was probably through the work that I do with the kids – is that nature is everywhere. It’s just that ability to connect with it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the book before, but there’s a book called Charlotte and The Quiet Place [Deborah Sosin, 2015]. And this book shows just how this child is always looking for a quiet spot. And she can’t find it in the school; she can’t find it in her home; she can’t find it in her city. And she finally goes on a nature walk. And her dog gets loose and she finds a quiet spot to just sit.
And she finds that her quiet can be inside as well. So, when she goes back to the city, she’s able to still find that quiet space and connect with herself and feel that awe for the natural world, wherever she is. And that’s kind of how I feel when I’m in the city. I still look for those little new buds bursting from the tree or look for the worms that are coming out after a really big rainstorm and just find those moments to connect with myself and connect with the natural world.
So, do you think there’s almost an element of, I guess, being mindful of the nature around you? Because it’s almost like you’re saying, it’s these small things that you’re connecting with and that it’s easy to oversee those things if you’re not paying attention, I guess.
I think that’s the biggest thing. I think that, in our in our world, it’s just fast paced. Like, “What’s next? What’s next? What do I have to do next?” But when we do take those moments and when I do take those moments to just really look and be present and listen to my breath, I can start to feel connected to nature. And that’s what I want to inspire in the students and the families that I work with. It’s just finding that quiet space in order to connect with yourself and connect with nature.
Yeah, cool. I find, too, actually, we’re living in Toronto and our boys are [ages] one and three. And there’s a lot more outdoor space and nature walks around than you might think, in most cities, as well, I find.
Oh, totally, totally. And I didn’t I didn’t know that until I started to look at that. And there’s city parks that I go to every single day when I’m in Seattle that I just am enjoying and being a part of.
Yeah, totally. We kind of have that experience, too, where we’re like, “Okay, what are we going to do with the kids today?” And then we start [web searching] around some walks or whatever. And then we went out and we were shocked. We’re like, “Wow, this is amazing! We didn’t even know this existed.” So, there’s more out there than what I think a lot of folks are aware of.
So, we talked a bit about some of the benefits of being outdoors with preschool children and some of the benefits being the energy. And for the parents, the kids are ready to go to sleep when they get home, which is a great benefit. What about some of the long-term effects of increasing time outside for children? Is there any information about that?
Yeah, for sure. And again, I would point you in the direction of Children and Nature Network. I know there’s one in Canada as well, I don’t know what the name is off the top of my head [Child and Nature Alliance of Canada]. But I would definitely check out those resources. They can give you all of that research that I don’t know firsthand.
But what I do know first hand is the families that I’ve worked with and the children that I’ve cared for and the longevity that I’ve seen when they come back to me and they say, “Hey Jen, my child is very connected to nature.”
There’s a term that we always use or there’s a phrase that we say, and it’s like, “You can’t protect the natural world unless you learn about it first and you learn to love it first.” So, that connectedness to the natural world is something I see through the children I care for and that I’ve seen when they are, like, 15 or 16 and they come back and their families tell us all about that.
I also see these benefits of the physical benefits and the risk taking, the healthy risk taking. When children have that ability to do that when they’re young, they’re able to be able to regulate themselves when they’re older to know what’s okay and what risk feels okay for them and navigate that for themselves.
And also just balancing on uneven terrain. This is so interesting to me because I have a lot of friends who didn’t grow up in nature and they’re so cautious when they walk. And I am just like, “Oh, I can just go here, here and here.” So, it’s just the differences in that ability to know where your body is in space and feeling confident when you are walking on a terrain that doesn’t feel safe for you.
There’s so many things that I could go on and on about. But I think the biggest thing is just giving children that space to really feel the natural world in order for them to feel connected to it and want to protect it when they’re older.
Yeah, that’s another good point, too, which of course is something that’s going to be so important for our youngest children today, is the understanding of the importance of nature and protecting it, yeah.
And so you’ve got this website www.NaturePlayLifestyle.com. Tell us a bit about that and your work. So, you’re doing some consulting; you do workshops, trainings. Tell us a little bit about your work.
Yeah, through the pandemic, I decided that I love to teach and I love being with children. But there was another part of me that was still blossoming inside of me in this desire to help support teachers and feeling confident and empowered to go outdoors and caregivers and parents to just feel confident in the outside.
So, I started this new, little, small business and it’s really blossomed. It’s something that I’m really passionate about, helping people to feel that confidence outside and know what to say. Because there’s so many different things that we hear and there’s so many different things that we think that we just want to say to kids.
So, my Nature Play Lifestyle, I have an Instagram, a YouTube. And I’m just here to help support anyone and everyone that wants to feel that empowerment to take children outside and know exactly what to do and how to do it outside.
What are some of the biggest questions or reservations about spending more extended periods of time outdoors with children?
I think the number one thing is really not knowing what to do. I feel like that is the number one thing that I hear, is caregivers telling me that they want to take their children outside but then they just run around like crazies. And I’m like, “Well, that’s okay, too. Like, they might just need to get their energy out.” But that there is this important piece of unstructured play and understanding what that unstructured play looks like.
I also hear parents say that they just really don’t know what to say when they’re walking down the sidewalk. And that is such a struggle for me, too. Like, don’t get me wrong, I feel like safety is my number one thing with kids. And when we’re walking down the sidewalk, it can be scary to not know what to say to your child and want to hold on to their hands so tightly because you don’t want anything to happen to them, which I understand because I don’t want anything to happen to them, either.
But it’s those word choices and setting up those expectations and those boundaries beforehand in order to help a child through and learn what those expectations are and trying to trust that child and knowing what to do.
And yeah, it’s definitely baby-steps in learning how to take learning outside. But it’s definitely something, if that’s interesting to you, to just start small and start where you can and what feels good to you.
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s a good point because you could kind of go, if you’re spending sort of an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon outside, maybe you kind of just try to extend that every day or something like that, as opposed to going fully outside.
Yeah, exactly. Or even just taking that learning outside. Whatever you’re doing inside can happen outside, too. You can bring those magnet tiles outside; you can bring the dolls outside. And it can just happen organically there instead of always just inside, too.
Yeah, totally, totally. Awesome, well, I think a lot of us in 2021 are looking forward to spending more time outside and hopefully with our children and with our friends and families, as well. As you look forward to the rest of this year, what are some words of optimism and inspiration you’d like to provide to our listeners on the Preschool Podcast?
Yeah, of course. It’s so interesting that we’re in 2021. I think the biggest thing that I find myself and what I find value in with other people I work with is really questioning your Why. Why are you scared of stick play? Why are you scared to take children outside? What are your hesitations about that? And writing that down on a journal piece of paper and just letting it all come out.
And maybe what’s coming out is that you’re scared that somebody is going to poke their eye out with a stick, which is a common thing that we always talk about. You’re going to poke your eye out!” Maybe it’s that children swing that stick too much and you’re scared that they’re going to hit someone.
And then coming back to that and finding out what you can do and what you can say in order to allow children to explore that desire, but in a safe, safe way that feels good to you so you can set up expectations around, “If you’re going to be holding a big stick, big sticks belong in big spaces. Walking feet when you’re holding the stick.” So, just asking yourself why you have those feelings and then finding out what you can do.
And the last thing I want to just say is, do what feels good to you. I feel like so often we’re hearing, like, “You have to do this. You have to take your kids outside. You have to do this.” And I just keep on coming back to “If it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do it. But find what feels good to you and follow that and keep working through that.” And if you have a goal, great, you can work through that as well and learn where you want to go with that goal, as well.
Yeah, awesome. Some great words there from Jenny Leibham. She’s a nature preschool coach. Check her out at www.NaturePlayLifestyle.com. Jenny, it’s been wonderful having you on the Preschool Podcast. Thanks for sharing your tips and words of wisdom around nature and outdoor play. It’s been wonderful having you. And great timing for lots of us to get outside!
Yeah, thank you so much for having me, too. It was awesome to talk to you, Ron!