Play is a hugely significant part of any child’s development, and creating safe, interactive and stimulating environments for children to play in is so important. Research has proven that children who engage in play are happier, more intelligent, healthier and more curious, and reap a whole host of other benefits which improve both their physical and mental well-being.
So why does it make a difference what kind of play a child has? Well everything from the type of environment they are in, the activities they do, and the equipment they play with can have an important impact on their growth and development, and so creating the best kind of area for play can make a big difference to not only the child, but also the surrounding environment as well.
Playgrounds come in all shapes and sizes but recently natural playgrounds are becoming more popular, where the play equipment is created using largely natural materials (and often recycled ones too!) creating beautiful, exciting playgrounds that are fun and safe, and respect the environment too.
There are many different types of natural playground to consider. Static structures such as slides and tree houses can be made from natural materials which mean that the actual creation of the playground creates the minimum of disruption to the environment. Also by including flowers, plants, ponds and other animal friendly habitats, you can turn your playground into a hub of life for insects, birds and other creatures therefore preserving and stimulating the natural habitat surrounding the playground, and also encouraging the children who play there to be mindful of the other creatures that live and grow there too.
Factory made playground construction materials may sometimes contain potentially harmful substances which are not only destructive to the environment but also to children’s health as well. Natural play areas which are full of plants, trees, logs, and trees stumps not only create a more stimulating environment, but are far better in terms of health and safety too.
Research surrounding nature based playscapes has shown that they work better for children in many ways. In fact natural playgrounds have shown to better stimulate children’s imaginations, boost their energy levels, and actually increase the amount of time they want to spend in play by a significant amount over factory made playgrounds.
Another extremely important benefit of natural playgrounds is what they teach our children. Caring for our environment is so important, and the damage we do to our environment has become an increasingly worrying problem over the past few decades. Teaching the next generation to care for the environment, and ensuring they understand how to look after it is paramount. If, from a young age, they are engaged in learning about nature, the environment, and how to protect it, this will stick with them as they grow. Understanding the reasons why using recycled materials where possible, creating spaces which protect, preserve and help natural habitats flourish, and why nature helps the human race, as well as appreciating the beauty and promoting a genuine interest in nature will mean the children of today will become a generation of adults who respect and care for the environment.
Natural playgrounds also provide greater opportunities for children to engage in interactive play. As the environment is constantly changing, play becomes more interactive, there are fewer restrictions, more freedom to run around and explore and for children to truly immerse themselves in play. Static play equipment can only be used in a finite number of ways, and therefore children’s activities can end up becoming repetitive if they visit the playground over and over again. In a playground where more natural materials are used, and areas which are allowed to change or be manipulated by little hands and also grow are incorporated into the playground, the activities and opportunities for exploration, creativity and imagination will be practically endless.
Natural playgrounds not only benefit the children who play in them but also teachers and parents too. Interacting with children and facilitating play is an important role for both teachers and parents, and the quality of the outdoor play environment can have a direct impact on how well they do this. Natural outdoor play areas are beautiful, serene spaces where both children and their chaperones can enjoy and engage with the landscape. Playscapes which have unique areas, and lots of natural elements incorporated into them reflect a better, more thoughtful space and this means teachers and parents who supervise children using these playgrounds will find themselves becoming more stimulated and engaged in the play themselves, therefore creating a more beneficial play experience for the child. Natural environments also have been linked to a decrease in stress levels, therefore the more time parents and teachers can spend in these environments the more they can also enjoy the benefits of feeling relaxed, more focused and productive and stress-free!
Natural playgrounds are designed to be inviting and stimulating, not intimidating. Intertwining the surrounding landscape into the play area creates a unique and pleasant environment for children of all ages and abilities to play in. Being able to peacefully coexist alongside the natural world is a wonderful thing, and natural playgrounds provide opportunities for children to do this from a young age. Where more traditional playgrounds can be spaces where the bigger children dominate equipment and can see younger children feeling discouraged or daunted, natural playgrounds have a softer, gentler atmosphere, yet at the same time still providing plenty of exciting and stimulating areas for children to play and learn.
Natural playgrounds are innovative, exciting, and educational. There are so many elements which can be included in the playground to make it a wonderful place for children to grow and learn. Sand pits, hillslides, water features, plants, trees, boulders and even outdoor musical instruments can all be included making a magical, safe, environmentally friendly playground which both children and adults alike can enjoy for many years.