For the Love of Nature.

It is well and truely obvious now - my love of nature and outdoor play for children.

Nature offers a range of benefits for growing bodies, through open ended play, risky play, cognitive/motor development and emotional relief.

Most of the families I work with live in Inner West Melbourne, so I have compiled my favourite nature hot spots for you! It seems after conversations with many people, nature play is hard to facilitate - but I assure you there is more of it in Melbourne than you may think! I am always on the lookout for natural places in the urban world!

I have had my eye on Bush Kinders and playgroups and Melbourne - and so many of them are set in wonderful places - but unfortunately much further out, making it hard for the everyday family or carer to access regularly. These spots I am sharing are all very accessible via transport and free! So pack a picnic, take your time and explore! I never take any toys when I head out of the house - particular to natural environments. There are so many other things to take note of and enjoy - utilise the environment as a resource for learning and experience. May it be sticks that turn into a campfire, birds who sing from high above or simply the joy of running through grass and tumbling over.

With backyards smaller than they have ever been and the busy lives that we now have - we really have to take the time to slow down, to live simply as often as possible and even feel a little bored as we re adjust to this kind of experience. Mind you - I don't think I or my little friends have ever experienced boredom at any of these places!!

Cruikshank Park, Yarraville

Beautiful inner west park, just a stones throw from Yarraville Village. With gorgeous willow trees by the creek, stepping stones to balance, hop, skip and jump across, many a puppy friends to meet and natural open ended materials to explore with. Early mornings are particularly beautiful, with the fresh morning air, eucalypt in the air and magpies singing their morning song. A wonderful country inspired escape, from city life.

Point Gellibrand Rockpools, Williamstown

This is my all time favourite places - all year round! Full of sensory experience for children of all ages, quieter than the main beach and a delight to explore. Arrive by train to Williamstown Station, as you exit the station, turn right and follow the path down to the rock pools. The most beautiful place - summer through to winter! Bring gumboots and enjoy looking for treasure among the rocks. The water is soothing for the emotions of our little friends but also for us bigger folk. Challenging for the body, the most immersed I have ever seen children in play and a plethora of learning opportunities!

Carlton Gardens, Fitzroy

My favourite Autumn garden! There is something beautiful about this place as the leaves change to shades of fiery orange! The kind the beckon you to throw into the air and run through piles of their crunchy delight! The duck ponds are beautiful to sit by and the water fountains a delight when they are on show! Plenty of space to run around, trees to climb, branches that hang low and huge roots that explode from the ground - creating a natural playground.

The Queens Gardens, CBD

I seem to have places that I am drawn to seasonally- these gardens are my favourite during the summer. With huge tall trees for shade and huge bushes of Hydrangeas - it is a cool summer retreat! The Queens Gardens are just opposite the NGV - each summer there is a Pavilion created in here with entertainment and a cafe. But further into the gardens you can discover ducks in the ponds, hills for running and amazing picnic spots.

Th Royal Botanic Gardens/ The Children's Garden, CBD

I am often confused by the boundaries of the Queens Garden and The Royal Botanic Gardens - as they kind of flow on from one another. Wonderful to explore with gigantic trees hundreds of years old - plus a special garden dedicated to children's outdoor experiences. Open only during the warmer months, to ensure that there is a rejuvenation period from all of the summer picnics. Lavender garden, water play, a palm forest, sand pits, lots of other children to befriend- is also host to school excursions on particular days of the week, so be sure to check the schedule.

Royal Park Nature Park, Parkville

Royal Park Nature Park is one of the first state of the art Nature Parks in Melbourne. Something that exist everywhere in Scandinavia! Designed to blend in with the environment, with logs and rocks to climb, water play, sand play, slides, climbing obstacle courses and the hill that every childhood needs! This park encourages risky play in challenging young growing bodies to climb that bit higher, get wet (even in the winter) and roll down the steepest of hills. When you are tired of the masses and want to step away - there is a is a huge parkland that the Nature Park backs onto. The perfect place to go on a 'Bear Hunt' and building forts!

(Urban Pine Forest) Birrarung Marr, CBD

An amazing spot I discovered after a trip to ArtPlay one day. A challenging hill to climb - especially with a pram! haha! A fantastic view of the city from a natural space. A small pine forest perfect for a picnic and the hill definitely wonderful for those growing bodies! It feels like you have discovered a magic forest right in the heart of the city- the kind you read about in Enid Blyton books. The grass is forever green, in summer there are sunflowers set against the city scape and the pine trees remind me of the romantic image childhood conjures for me.

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