Inspired by nature - RSA blog - RSA

Inspired by nature


  • Picture of Rebecca Ford
    Former Head of Collaboration and Learning Design
  • Picture of Alessandra Tombazzi
    Alessandra Tombazzi
  • Picture of Penny Hay
    Penny Hay
    Artist, educator, mentor, researcher
  • Community and place-based action
  • Education and learning

The work of our Playful green planet intervention is accelerating faster than the average school sports day 100m. Here the team summarises a ‘lunch and learn’ at RSA House that focused on how the influence of nature can benefit a child’s development. 

Take a moment to conjure up a childhood memory of play, and stay with it for a minute. Close your eyes and try to think back to where you were, what you were doing and what it felt like. Was it an outdoor memory? Did you have a sense that you were outside of the direct supervision of adults? Was it pushing the boundaries of what was ‘allowed’? Reflecting on it, do you feel it provided a route to connection – to yourself, peers or other people around you, and with the living world?

This was the introduction to our Playful green planet RSA Coffee House ‘lunch and learn’ session. The event was co-hosted by Sam Kendall, head of school learning at the Eden Project, and Dr Penny Hay, professor of imagination at Bath Spa University.

Sam led us through this reflective exercise and, for most of us, it rang true; many of our formative play memories were outside, in nature, and fostered a sense of connection. This is so important. There is solid evidence showing that nature-immersed creative play greatly benefits early childhood development, wellbeing and understanding, growing children’s interest and capabilities in social and climate action.



of pupils have access to wild spaces


of children lack connection to nature


of children spend less time outside than prison inmates

Why nature-based play?

As Arup’s Nature-based play research on the value of nature-based play puts it: “Nature-based play allows children to explore freely, use their imagination, and interact with other people, plants and animals. Children need nature, and nature needs children who will grow up and value the resources, services and amenities it provides.”

But the current UK picture of children’s access to and engagement with nature, community and creativity is bleak – and it’s this triple crisis that Playful green planet is responding to. Childhood experiences of play in nature are cited as foundational by adults who are engaged in environmental stewardship, yet children’s access to and engagement with nature-based play is stark: less than 10 per cent of UK children have access to play in wild spaces compared to 50 per cent a generation ago, four out of five children lack a connection to nature, and three out of four spend less time outdoors than prison inmates.

Alongside this nature connection crisis are two further crises of connection – to community and creativity. While we know establishing community connections has wider positive impacts including on learning outcomes and character qualities (our own Teenagency work shows that young people want to engage in social action activities), there remains a lack of opportunity to experience them. Although we know that creative opportunities in early childhood foster wellbeing and social connection that set pupils on the path to future flourishing, these opportunities are under threat for many children. Most notably, there is a decline in student participation and teacher education in arts subjects which is most severe for state schools in deprived areas.

Mission and emerging approach

Playful green planet aims to respond to the triple crisis in children’s connection to nature, community and creativity. We aim to transform how families, primary schools and early-year settings foster a connection to nature and community through creative nature-based play and learning.

Our vision

Every child has access to nature-based creative play, which builds climate and social action capacity while strengthening local community and ecology.

Forest School Class

How do we plan to act towards this vision? We are in the early stages of developing our approach – but we will share some of the emerging elements and questions, acknowledging that the ‘how’ still needs to be codesigned further with our community.

Our approach involves building a movement and an enabling infrastructure of nature-based creative play spaces and learning experiences that grow every child’s capacity to regenerate their communities and environments as future leaders. The movement is led by place-based coalitions of playful green people who seed and grow collaborative action in their local area, through four aspects:

  • A nested approach to impact
  • A distributed and movement-based model
  • A place-based, community-led approach
  • Building on and evolving existing ‘next practice’

The value add of Playful green planet

The existing landscape


  • From inequitable
  • Exclusivity


  • From disjointed
  • Single-place, one-off, time-bound
  • 'Done to' rather than 'done by'


  • From narrow learning
  • Singular set of benefits

The value-add of Playful green planet


  • Towards bridging the gap
  • For everyone


  • Towards mainstreaming
  • Convening, connecting and influencing policy
  • Co-creation


  • Towards holistic action
  • Triple benefits of children's agency, connected community and stewarding a healthy environment

Reflections from the Coffee House event

On the day of the ‘lunch and learn’, a rich and expansive discussion covered a range of issues that we will address in our work.

Sulaiman Khan, ThisAbility founder, speaker and activist suggested integrating disability into our Playful green planet work. Referencing his Disability Justice Manifesto and his work with Collette Philip, Sulaiman said: “Diversity should be a given; inclusion is our practice; equity is our tool; justice is our mission; so that liberation is our goal.” Max Girardeau, director of The Visionaries, quoted author and activist Bayo Akomolafe: ”The way we are perceiving the problem is part of the problem,” and suggested that “we work at the paradigm/narrative level, and imagine ourselves back into the landscape, then it becomes much more difficult to separate ourselves (anyone) from it, as it is a fundamental part of 'self'. We are ecological beings”.

In addition, we discussed the various educational options that cater to nature and community and especially consultation with children and young people. How do we get children outdoors and into more wild spaces? Spaces can be very prescriptive, but these can be reimagined. Pop-ups such as Forest of Imagination are great examples of this, embedding engagement processes to reframe and reimagine possibilities in a place. We also shared our approach to evaluation as integrated and multimodal, ensuring a longitudinal approach to impact.

Girl with binoculars in forest

Ways to get involved

At the time of writing, we’re further scoping and developing our approach, and we’d love to hear from people interested in piloting Playful green planet in their local area. If you or someone you know might be interested, let us know. We’re also seeking partners to fund this work. if what we’ve shared resonates with you or your business, connect with us.

We're building a community of interest on the RSA’s Fellowship platform, Circle. Stay up to date and find out more about the Playful green planet workshop at the Fellows Festival on 2 March 2024 at RSA in London.

Get involved today

Join the Playful Green Planet community.

Help Playful green planet flourish

In partnership with the Eden Project, Bath Spa University, House of Imagination and HundrED, we’re seeking funding partners to help us realise this bold vision.

Fellows Festival 2024

Learn more about what to expect from this year's international Fellows Festival and get your tickets today.


Other aligned initiatives include:

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