Who needs expensive toys when there’s so much to see on a Spring day? Our walk to school on an unseasonably warm February morning was punctuated by natural discoveries, like the daffodil and crocus flowers that my children spotted; the three disembowelled frogs with bright red and green entrails strewn on the floor; the sound of a woodpecker in the adjacent wood; and shrill birdsong seemingly everywhere. Later that day whilst dog walking in the balmy sun I was struck by the noisiness of silence, taking me back to a midnight walk in the Australian rainforest, where we stood in pitch black silence, amazed at the noisy buzzing and shrieking enveloping us.

For many children, silence is something rarely encountered, with a TV or music forever playing in the background. Not only can this be overwhelming for those already struggling to process the many sensory inputs bombarding them, but it is hardly surprising that some find focussing and concentrating difficult when brought up in a culture of constant interruption and distraction. So often when it comes to inspiration for play, less is more as prescriptive toys that could more accurately be described as entertainment, leave little scope for children to shape play with their own body and mind and use them as they wish.

We know that children’s brain’s are hard wired to search out novelty and that a typically developed child will cease to be interested in things which do not change. What’s brilliant about the outdoors environment is that subtle changes to the seasons and micro-climate give rise to novelty and interest, like those disembowelled frogs! But playing outdoors is not just great in its own right, but also because it helps reduce the amount of time children might otherwise spend watching TV or playing computer games. Worrying research1 has revealed that mice subjected to 6 hours of TV a day for 42 days, not so unusual for some children, were hyperactive and failed to respond to a novel object placed in their cage, a key factor in promoting brain development and learning. It was not clear whether this was because they did not notice its novelty or they simply didn’t care, either way, if transferable to children this does not bode well for inspiring and engaging young children in education and learning. Returning to that refreshing Spring walk and the novelty and interest it freely afforded for all the senses, take the time to dawdle and see the world from a child’s perspective and you may find their enthusiasm and awe puts a spring in your step too.

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo&feature=youtube_gdata_player