A new study exploring the effect of adventurous play on children’s emotional wellbeing will take place throughout 2020 at Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Woods Mill Nature Reserve at Henfield from February.
Saliva samples will be taken from the children, aged between 3-5 years old, using safe collection kits before and after play session to measure levels of hormones indicating how children respond to challenging and demanding experiences. Research will then reveal how children’s stress systems respond to adventurous play, and whether differences in their stress hormone levels are related to their personality, emotional wellbeing, or parenting.
The study will be led by Dr Kathryn Lester, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology from the University of Sussex with assistance from Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Tots Co-ordinator Sue Curnock and Learning and Engagement Leader Ryan Greaves. Dr Lester is looking for families to take part in play sessions at Woods Mill Nature Reserve where children are encouraged to leap across logs, tight-rope walk between trees, jump in muddy ditches, saw branches and climb trees.
Parents will complete some simple questionnaires asking about their own and their child’s emotional wellbeing, their parenting practices, and their child’s previous adventurous play experiences.
Dr Lester said, ‘When children play in adventurous and risky ways (such as climbing trees, using adult tools, playing out of sight from adults) where there is the possibility of physical injury or psychological harm, they experience feelings of fear and excitement, and thrill and adrenaline. During our study, children will experience risk and challenge in a relatively safe environment, where they can master physical skills, navigate complex social interactions, and build confidence while learning about fear, uncertainty, risk and coping.
‘They may also learn to interpret the internal sensations that often accompany exhilarating, and challenging experiences, such as a fast heart rate, in a thrilling and exciting rather than fearful way. This learning may help to protect children from feeling overwhelmed and from experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety when faced with threatening, or uncertain situations.
Adventurous play sessions will run from February 2020 throughout the year at Woods Mill Nature Reserve. At the end of each session children and parents will be invited to stay on a little longer to experience Sussex Wildlife Trust’s other Forest School activities.
To find out how to take part in the study please visit: https://tinyurl.com/wxkkyb2