Let's get real: are today's children playing with nature? Do the educational aspirations of the nature play movement emerge within children's neighbourhood play?

D O'Connor, Univeristy of Notre Dame Australia
C Robinson McGunnigle, The University of Notre Dame Australia
M McCormack
V O'Rourke


The Irish Neighbourhood Play Research Project was a large scale research project which included almost 1700 participant families and 240 communities throughout Ireland. It used parental surveys and naturalistic observation to secure data on how children in modern Ireland aged 0-15 are spending their free time. An all-island approach was taken incorporating cities, towns and rural areas across a variety of socio-economic groupings.

Interesting findings arose from the data relating to the choices that children are making within their free time. This paper focuses on the choices they are making within their engagement with nature and natural materials. Data on the children’s nature choices will be presented and discussed through a child development lens. The positive and negative implications for both learning and development are raised. This leads us to interesting questions about the role of nature within child development and learning. As an international nature play movement gains ground in raising awareness about the importance of nature based learning and its linkages with educational structure and pedagogy, this research into children’s nature choices is timely

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