by Anouk Schouten and Marleen Ruigrok
The wilder nature is a very stimulating environment for children to play, explore and get connected to nature. Childcare organisation ‘Struin’ takes children out to the wilder nature environment, outside the city every day. Here, natural processes are still visible, you can encounter large grazers or wild animals and see as little human influence as possible.
Every piece of nature challenges to play & move and offers children freedom and optimal development opportunities.
Who did not spend hours in nature in their childhood? Building forts, catching frogs, going on adventures together. Not so long ago, this was part of every child’s life. Unfortunately, these days children get outside less and less. But what better place to exercise, have adventures and develop than outdoors, in nature?
No place challenges to play more than the wilder nature. Trees to climb, branches to build with, the tall grass to hide in, there is a challenge everywhere you look. At Struin, a childcare organization in the Netherlands, we take children out into nature every day. Because we are
convinced that experiencing nature is the best thing you can give your children from an early age. Rain or shine, we go out into nature!
Struin is a Dutch word that stands for ‘wandering around’. And that is exactly what we offer children; the opportunity to wander through nature, play, search for traces, explore and thus gain top-nature experiences and build nature knowledge. This is because we believe that children develop best by playing and moving freely in wilder nature. Here, they encounter natural challenges, come face to face with small and large animals and get surprised by the splendour and grandeur of nature.
We see that playing in nature makes children happy and joyful. We know that this also contributes to nature connection and are convinced that this connection ultimately contributes to nature conservation. Our dream: a sustainable earth as a healthy habitat for all species. Our aim is therefore to be able to pass on our earth to future generations in the best possible way.
And so, full of passion for nature connection of children, Matthijs de Gruijter started Struin in 2007. With a small group of children and one Struin bicycle, he set off. It became a success and in the past 16 years Struin developed from a nature club into a childcare organisation with one day-care centre for children aged 2 to 4 and nine out-of-school care departments for children aged 4 to 13. In addition, schools can come to Struin for outdoor learning projects.
Every week, about 880 children are picked up by Struin from school with the unique Struin bicycles to play in the nature reserves around the city.
Struin is convinced that time to play freely in nature is the best thing you can give children for their development. Nature is a development space for all ages, where children naturally encounter things that help them develop fundamental life skills. You can’t just stop walking when you are tired, when you are cold you have to take action yourself to get warm and there are countless creative games to think of. Motor skills, independence,
perseverance, creativity, patience, cooperation. You come across it all.
Struin’s vision focuses specifically on connecting with the wilder natural spaces, untouched by humans as much as possible. After all, here natural processes are still visible, you can encounter large grazers or wild animals and see as little human influence as possible. Each part of nature challenges play and movement in its own way and offers children the freedom to follow their own ideas.
The more (natural) materials there are present in an environment, to which children themselves can give meaning, the more challenging and stimulating that environment is.
For this reason, we play without toys or other non-natural materials. These non-natural materials are often already developed for a predetermined purpose and distract attention from the possibilities found in nature and the power children possess to create their own play.
Especially off the trails, there is a lot to experience. By going on wilder treks right through nature, you come across many hazards all by yourself. Dead and living animals, fallen trees, ditches to jump over. How far do you dare to go? How far do you dare to let the children go?
You might wonder if it is not dangerous to go into nature with a group of children. After all, anything can happen and there is usually no fence around the area.
Learning to deal with risks is very important for children. The pedagogues working at Struin take a stimulating and guiding role. When they encounter a challenge during a Struin trip, they discuss it with the children or explore the risks together in a controlled and careful manner.
In this way, children learn to take risks responsibly. With an adult nearby they can fall back on, children can explore their environment as well as their own abilities.
In the wilderness, you will be surprised and challenged every time. The possibilities are enormous. That is what makes the wilder nature such a stimulating environment for children.
All the elements challenge, surprise and amaze. Each season, each area, each type of weather adds something new to the experience and sensation. As the Scandinavians say; There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. In nature, it all happens!