Expert On Nature Play Visits Los Alamos

Ken Finch portaging a canoe. Courtesy photo

PEEC News:

Generations of American children enjoyed outdoor play in wild spaces as a cherished part of growing up, but too many of today’s children are virtually trapped indoors. Veteran environmental educator and national nature play expert Ken Finch will speak at the Los Alamos Nature Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21 at the Los Alamos Nature Center. He brings an informative and light-hearted perspective of the growing movement to restore nature-based play to childhood. He will also explain how we can help foster it in our own family and community spaces.

What do you remember about your childhood nature play? Millions of Americans fondly recall playing outdoors in natural settings, doing things like building tree houses, catching frogs and fireflies, splashing in creeks, or just daydreaming in a special hiding place. These activities are all nature play: unstructured childhood play in “wild” areas, ranging from the vacant lot next door to the local neighborhood park or the back forty of a family farm. At its very best, nature play is not scheduled, planned, or led by adults. Instead, it is open-ended, free-time exploration and recreation, without impinging adult supervision. For many of us, this sort of nature play virtually defined our childhoods.

Los Alamos is the perfect place for nature play. We have wild, natural places just steps from every home. Our canyons and mesas are full of interesting and exciting places to play, build forts, explore, and discover. And our climate is mild enough that we can have fun playing outside year-round.

Why is nature play Important? There is a growing body of research about the many positive impacts of nature play on children’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being. Richard Louv did a great job of reviewing these benefits in his best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. In addition to this, for environmentalists, the most valuable impact of nature play is on conservation. Multiple studies have found that frequent, unstructured childhood play in natural spaces is the single most common influence on the development of life-long conservation values. Nature play is strong stuff!

Many factors have converged to make nature play increasingly rare in American childhoods, including less access to green spaces where children can freely play, the growing allure and availability of plugged-in play, longer school days and more homework, parental fears about children playing outdoors without close supervision, and the trend to over-schedule children in structured, adult-led activities. The result is that most American children no longer enjoy regular nature play. In fact, one study found that our children now spend an average of just 30 minutes per week in unstructured outdoor play, in any kind of setting.

Nature play can be brought back. The renewal of nature play in the U.S. is a booming movement, and our own Pajarito Environmental Education Center is working on that in Los Alamos. To learn more about nature play and how you can support it, attend the adult talk, “Restoring the Nature of Childhood.” The talk is free and open to the public.

For more information about this and other Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) programs, visit, email or call 505.662.0460.