Film review: “Nature Play: Take Childhood Back”

You might have heard that kids are not spending that much time outdoors anymore and about the movement to get kids outdoors again. There are other documentaries on this topic like, Play It Again and Project Wild Thing, explaining why this is a problem and how to change things.

Nature Play: Take Childhood Back brings a new perspective by showcasing the Scandinavian education system and how countries in that region focus on outdoor play and “friluftsliv” (outdoor life) in early childhood and at kindergarten levels.

Directed and filmed by Daniel Stilling (Danish) and produced by Aime Stilling (American), their film was shot in the U.S., Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s a beautifully put together educational documentary full of interviews with experts, educators, and parents who spotlight the differences between the connections of children, nature, and education in the U.S. and Scandinavia.

The documentary starts in America with speeches from bestselling author Richard Louv and other educators talking about how kids are not playing outside anymore, and how schools in the U.S. are eliminating recess time and focusing on academic testing of children instead.

In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, we are presented with a different educational approach. The philosophy of “friluftsliv” shapes the programs for kids who are brand new up to six years old. We meet educators and landscape architects who explain what children learn through outdoor play, while watching kids playing outdoors at a forest school using knives, climbing trees, and making fires.

The documentary ends in the U.S. showing the push for standardized testing and finishes with a speech from actor Matt Damon about the need for a different approach.

Pieced together with interviews, on-screen graphics, and musical interludes with landscapes and kids playing outside in different settings, I especially enjoyed how the film creates an idyllic sense of nature.

Nature Play does a great job of illustrating the difference between having a child in a program in Scandinavia compared to a normal school setting in the U.S. Though school boards in Canada have not gone as far as eliminating recess as they have in the U.S., this film can serve as a warning in today’s push for academic achievement over all else. However, I think Canadian viewers will find it interesting to watch the outdoor approach in Scandinavia’s education system and realize that the Canadian system isn’t as far ahead as we may have thought in terms of spending time outdoors in an educational setting.

In Scandinavia, the kids have fewer rules, more recess, and are allowed to engage in risky play. It might be a little shocking for a North American educator and even parents to see such a different approach in programs where kids are allowed to be so free and have so much risky play. Or, maybe they will see a little bit of their own childhood.

If you’re interested, you can organize a screening of Nature Play or just get more information about the documentary.

Disclaimer: I’m credited in the documentary and was interviewed for the documentary. However, my interview does not appear in the film. My opinions are my own.

One response to “Film review: “Nature Play: Take Childhood Back”

  1. The film seems wonderful. I would like to watch the whole thing, 82 minutes. I am an educator, and would be very important for me to see the whole film.

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