Natural Playgrounds Provide Inclusive Play Spaces
Children love to play in nature – climbing trees and rocks, making forts and mud pies, digging in the sand, jumping in leaves. It’s no surprise that natural playgrounds that encourage this type of engagement with the natural world are booming in popularity. These unique play spaces incorporate features such as hills, climbing walls, gardens, sandpits, streams, caves, vegetation, logs, and other natural elements to spark children’s sense of adventure and imagination.
There are many reasons parents and educators prefer natural playgrounds. These playgrounds replace plastic and other man-made products with natural materials. Studies have also shown that children’s play and development is enhanced in a natural setting and that children spend more time at play in natural playgrounds than traditional ones.
There’s another benefit that hasn’t gotten as much attention: Natural playgrounds provide all-ages play spaces with few access barriers for children of all abilities. A play space created around grass, wood, sand, and stone easily becomes a natural haven for creative play at many different stages of development.
Children Grow with Natural Playgrounds
One of the biggest challenges in playground design is making sure it includes structures or spaces that meet the needs of a diverse range of children. Some communities install a “tot lot” for younger children near larger structures that keep older kids active. When the space for the playground is limited, towns and cities may be forced to make tough choices that leave the youngest or oldest children out.
By contrast, natural playgrounds appeal to all children in different ways. Kids are free to create their own age-appropriate games around features that are made from dirt and water, leaves and logs. The same child can enjoy her neighborhood’s natural playground from the time she’s a toddler to when she’s a teen.
Because they appeal to children of various ages, natural playgrounds also foster socialization among groups of children who might not otherwise interact in a play space. When the toddlers share play space with 11-year-olds instead of being relegated to the tot lot, both groups have the opportunity to learn how to play around and with each other. This has developmental benefits for both the older and younger children.
Natural Playgrounds Provide Space for Children of All Abilities
Universal design is an architecture and design movement centered on creating spaces that are accessible and usable for people of all physical abilities and ages. This movement promotes the idea that our play environments shouldn’t need special ADA-accessible accommodations. Instead, spaces and products should be designed for all users.
The principles of universal design include equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, and tolerance for error. Some playground designs have begun to use universal design principles, adding sound and tactile features to provide experiences for a broader range of children. Natural playgrounds follow these design principles – naturally.
The barriers that a traditional playground presents to a child with sight or hearing impairments or other disabilities may not be readily apparent to parents whose children are able-bodied. But for children with different abilities, a traditional playground can be a hostile and confusing place.
Natural playgrounds, on the other hand, provide an accepting space where children of all abilities can make their own fun. Natural play spaces come with an engaging variety of textures and sounds. Children can choose how to interact with natural features like logs and stones in their own way, according to their physical abilities. By fostering interactions among children of all abilities, natural playgrounds can prevent isolation and improve social connections.
Natural Playgrounds Are Good for Adults, Too
Most parents know well the discomfort of sitting in the baking sun while their child zips down the slide for the 347th time. Natural playgrounds offer a more inviting space for adults as well as children. Caretakers can sit in the shade, enjoy the sound of flowing water, and watch their children create inventive games by controlling the environment around them.
People of all ages benefit from time spent in nature. A natural playground is almost like a garden, with beauty all around – birds and butterflies flitting by, trees rustling in the breeze, the sound of a stream mixing with children’s laughter. And when adults enjoy the space, children get more time to play.
We look forward to helping you build your next playground! Let us work with you to design and develop a custom natural playground that will engage young minds and bodies while complimenting the surrounding terrain. Contact us to get started.