Running Wild: engaging and empowering future custodians of place through creative nature-based play

  • Tanja Beer University of Melbourne
  • Andrea Cook University of Melbourne
  • Kate Kantor University of Melbourne
Keywords: children, nature, arts-science, play, urban environments, sustainability


Children are spending significantly less time in nature than ever before. The decline in nature-based play has been precipitated by many factors, including: increased risk aversion and fear amongst parents, poor play opportunities for children and the rapid embrace of digital technology as recreation by young people. These factors all contribute to a collective and individual loss of childhood experience with nature. At the same time, young people are increasingly aware of the unprecedented level of climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and species extinction and the effect it could have on their futures. Thus, there is an urgent need for new approaches to environmental learning that celebrates children’s agency, supporting them to directly contribute to ecological systems and global sustainability across communities. This paper explores the potential of creative nature-based play to contribute to children’s identity and understanding of the natural world through a practice-led research project, Running Wild (2016). Running Wild was conducted with Polyglot Theatre in collaboration with Year 6 students from Mahogany Rise Primary School (Frankston North) and the Royal Botanic Gardens (Cranbourne). The aim of the project was to introduce the students to their natural reserve (‘The Pines’) through participatory art-making in collaboration with local artists, scientists and Indigenous elders. This included the opportunity for children to build their own habitats or ‘cubbies’, make animal costumes and plant native seedlings at The Pines, resulting in an outdoor performance for their families and friends. Running Wild not only demonstrated increased nature-connection amongst the students, but also the importance of creative nature-based play in improving learning capacities and wellbeing, as well as promoting opportunities for environmental leadership.
How to Cite
Beer T., Cook A., & Kantor K. (2018). Running Wild: engaging and empowering future custodians of place through creative nature-based play. Journal of Public Pedagogies, (3).