MSc Conservation students focus on the concept of natural play

June 2011

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(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

The East of England branch of the National Trust recently commissioned a project, led by three Writtle College MSc Conservation students, researching into the idea of ‘natural play’ at National Trust estates across the country. The aim of the project was to promote the use of the countryside to encourage healthy, physical activity to children.

The three Writtle MSc students; Ben Mathers, Jake Sales and Heather Towell, started their project in January this year, focusing specifically on children in Key Stage 1 and 2, and their families. Later on in the year the team presented their documented work to a panel from the National Trust, and even presented dedicated collateral they had designed and produced to support their results.

Natural play is based on the idea that children will play instinctively with the natural elements that are around them – they are natural play experts. Ben, Jake and Heather looked at three individual case studies for natural play: grasslands, heathlands and woodlands. Grasslands were depicted by the three as a starting point for a child’s natural play, with the final progression to woodlands.

The main framework of the student led project focused on an ecosystem diagram and looked at how children are likely to play with, for example; a fallen tree, a patch of heathland, or a ditch. The framework also focused on the theory that many families have lost communication with the natural elements around them, and looked at how families could be re-engaged with their natural surroundings.

Asked to define natural play, Jake Sales described: “it’s about a child’s way of exploration and finding out things for themselves. Natural play should be instinctive to children and their families.”

Ben Mathers went on to say: “Children don’t like to take risks because their parents tell them not to. We were shocked to find out during our research that some children have never really had the opportunity to have natural play.”

In summary the project framework will offer the East of England National Trust team a route into promoting natural play among visitors, in particular children and their families, to properties, woodlands and gardens.

Pictured - Jake Sales, Heather Towell and Ben Mathers