More and more research is showing that children benefit from playing outdoors, specifically in nature. Children are happier, healthier, and smarter when they connect with nature. Several new movements in playground design have sought to incorporate nature in the play experience. In addition, several playground manufacturers have responded by creating new lines of play structures and features that are nature inspired.
What are natural playgrounds? Simply put, they are areas where children can play with natural elements such as wood, plants, rocks, dirt, and water. Natural playgrounds incorporate features such as tunnels made from hollowed out trees, grass mounds, slides built into the hillside, tree stumps to climb and sit on, boulders to climb over, edible plants, butterfly gardens, and vegetable gardens. Natural playgrounds offer opportunities for environmental education, unstructured play, social interaction, along with a more aesthetic setting.
Some playground equipment manufacturers are creating equipment made to look like tree houses, stumps, climbing boulders, and balance beams. They are also promoting placing equipment into more naturalized settings with lots of trees and shrubs. Whether you can call this a true “natural playground” is not the point. The bottom line is, children should have access to playgrounds with more natural features, whether it is an existing playground that integrates manufactured play equipment with lush plantings, a brand new playground that includes all natural features, or a combination of both.