Raby Castle’s latest exciting attraction, The Plotters’ Forest, is the perfect place to reap the many benefits of playing in nature for children.
Claire Jones, Head of Leisure and Tourism at Raby Estates, said:
“In the modern world, ‘immersive play experiences within nature can be hard to find – we’ve all heard the depressing statistics about children spending less time outdoors. But the benefits of outdoor play are so well-documented that we committed to this approach early on. It just seemed to fit perfectly with everything we believe here at Raby.”
So what exactly are the major benefits of playing outdoors? Read on to find out.
Outdoor play encourages a range of physical, mental and wellbeing benefits
Not only is outdoor play beneficial for children’s activity levels and physical health, it can also improve their mental focus. Countless studies have pointed out the connection between children’s exercise levels and their concentration span: one possible reason for the growing interest in Forest School approaches, particularly in Early Years settings.
And there are plenty of other physical, mental and wellbeing benefits to outdoor play, including helping children get their daily dose of vitamin D – vital for healthy bones – to maintaining a healthy sleep cycle – essential for growing bodies and brains.
There’s also the fact that playing in the sunshine has been found to increase serotonin levels, boosting energy and encouraging positive moods, while simultaneously reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One recent British study reported that children’s stress and anxiety could be reduced after just five minutes of playing outdoors!
Outdoor play engages the senses
Sensory play has long been recognised as the gold standard in the world of children’s development. It helps build nerve connections in the brain, encourages mastery of gross and fine motor skills, helps with language and cognitive development and can even support children in controlling their emotions.
Outdoor play tends to be a far more varied yet gentle sensory experience compared to indoor equivalents. In The Plotters’ Forest, children can smell and touch the pine trees, hear bird calls and buzzing insects and enjoy the rich and varied colours of the natural world. Getting close to tantrum territory? We recommend getting outside for some natural stimulation, and enjoying some sunlight on skin, a gentle breeze or collecting leaves to compare scents and textures.
Outdoor play encourages creativity and imagination
In The Plotters’ Forest, there’s plenty of fun equipment which youngsters can use to create mayhem and mischief: giant musical instruments, spinning signposts, Plotters’ Portraits, Talking Tubes and more. However, there’s also lots of open space designed to foster more inventive, creative play – tunnels, towers, stargazing decks – where little ones can let their imaginations run wild.
Claire Jones explained the decision-making process:
“After lots of research and discussion, we decided that the best kind of outdoor play strikes a fine balance between structured and unstructured activity.”
“We wanted to give children the best of both worlds: a stimulating environment, with plenty of freedom for wilder play. We thought back to our own childhoods, and felt the days we’d spent making up our own games and rules were amongst the best play experiences we’d had! We wanted to make sure our young visitors could feel something of that freedom, too.”
And beyond simply having fun, creative play is also another great way to help build neurological connections, develop language and more vital skills.
Outdoor play helps children engage with nature
The Plotters’ Forest was designed with the natural environment at its heart. Built as sustainably as possible, visitors will discover natural materials sourced from Raby’s sustainably managed woodland.
And instead of the plastic and garish colours found in many playgrounds, Raby Rebels will find natural shades of green and red inspired by nature’s palette.
Claire Jones added:
“We decided to weave the play equipment through the existing trees and around natural clearings because we wanted to respect the forest and the wildlife it sustains.”
“We hope that The Plotters’ Forest will provoke thoughts and questions about the woodland environment and the life it supports, and foster the kind of curiosity about the world we love to see in young people.”
The Plotters’ Forest will also be available for exclusive hire, giving teachers, parents and other youth groups the opportunity to deepen youngsters’ connection with the great outdoors. Private visits can be tailored to particular interests or a curriculum focus – for example, minibeasts or the seasons – in an inspiring and engaging manner.
“Of course, play is our primary focus – we want children of all ages to enjoy our plotters’ paradise. But we also recognise that there’s also a valuable opportunity to use play as a gateway to a more profound appreciation and understanding of the world, our wildlife and woodland ecosystems.”