Natural playgrounds function similarly to standard playgrounds, but in addition to using plastics and metals, they are also constructed from and made to emulate natural materials, like wood and stone. Natural playground equipment is also typically less structured than traditional playground equipment.
For example, on a traditional playground, there might be a designated area for swinging, playing on the monkey bars and using the slide. In a natural playground, however, there might also be some strategically placed tree stumps, wooden bridges and log slice climbers, which are free to be used however a child sees fit. Natural playgrounds focus on fostering a creative, freethinking playtime atmosphere. Special emphasis is placed on connecting with nature and increasing motor, cognitive and social skills through digging, climbing, swinging, balancing and discovering.
Some common natural play structures include:
- Tree climbs with treehouse panels
- Hollowed log tunnels for climbing and crawling through
- Slabs of wood for obstacle courses and hopscotch
- Rock trails for walking
- Log slice climbers
- Wooden playhouses
- Raised garden beds for digging and planting
- Stacked timber climbing walls
- Large sandboxes
- Tree stumps for balance and stepping
- Web climbers made of rope and wood
- Soft beds of grass, sand or mulch
With so many options to choose from, children can play and explore in a way that makes sense to them. Because natural playgrounds are so versatile, they come with a wide range of advantages. Some of the benefits of natural playgrounds are:
1. They Are Inclusive and Accessible
Having a strong sense of belonging is an integral part of a child’s mental, social and emotional development. Some scholars suggest that when a child feels like they are accepted and have a place among their peers, they are more likely to feel motivated and more inclined to overcome learning barriers in the classroom. Feeling like an integrated part of a group also helps children and adolescents form their own social identities that they will continue to grow and expand as they age.
Natural playgrounds are less structured, and equipment is open for interpretation, making it a much more welcoming and accessible environment for children with physical limitations. There is no “right way” to play on a natural playground. Instead, children are encouraged to utilize natural playground equipment in a way that is fun and comfortable for them — this means no matter a child’s experience, fitness level, age, culture or physical ability, they will not feel left out or unequipped to have a good time with their peers.
2. They Encourage Children to Play Creatively
Natural playgrounds encourage children to play creatively by eliminating expectations and playground rules and replacing them with stimulating textures and experiences. Because natural play equipment is designed to foster open-ended play, children are presented with the opportunity to figure out what they enjoy and create new ways to challenge themselves.
Nature-inspired playgrounds promote this creativity in a safe and controlled environment. By opting for a balance of natural playground equipment and nature-inspired equipment, you can create a play area with all the benefits of nature-inspired play, but with the added benefits of durable, splinter-free materials.
3. They Promote Active Play
According to one study, children who play on natural playgrounds tend to be more active than those who do not. Depending on their age, a child should be getting about 60 to 180 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, in addition to other muscle and bone-strengthening activities throughout the week:
- Toddlers and preschoolers, ages one to four: Toddlers should have 180 minutes of both structured and free play each day. As they age into preschool and junior kindergarten, they should engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous, energetic play for 60 minutes per day. Physical activity at this age includes climbing, walking, skipping and exploring.
- Children age five to nine: Children age five to nine require more challenging physical activity, like sports and outdoor recreation. They should engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day, as well as vigorous exercises three times a week and muscle and bone-strengthening activities three times a week.
- Children age ten to 12: Children this age require the same amount of physical activity per week, including vigorous exercises and muscle and bone-strengthening activities, but exercises will begin to take the form of more independent play. Children may start developing their own interests and bring those to playtime, like hiking and team activities.
Natural playgrounds promote an active play environment because children can create their own challenges and develop unique ways of playing. These playgrounds usually have a variety of different activities, meaning there will be something for children of every age to enjoy.
4. They Foster a Social Environment
Because nature-inspired playgrounds encourage outdoor free play, children from all backgrounds come together in an equal environment. Playgrounds encourage children to engage with each other, developing crucial social skills, such as:
- Conflict resolution
- Interaction with people that look and act differently
The social skills children learn during these formative years create a strong foundation for future social skills to develop, like problem-solving and adaptability.
5. They Allow Children to Learn More About Nature
Because of the way they are designed, natural playgrounds bring children into direct contact with the environment, including the way it looks, sounds and feels. Spending time in nature is also very beneficial for people of all ages.
According to experts, spending time in nature can help children:
- Achieve greater focus and restore attention.
- Relieve stress and anxiety associated with growing up.
- Be more engaged and interested in the world around them.
- Foster a stronger spirit of creativity and curiosity.
According to one study, natural playgrounds help children learn more about the environment and encourage children to adopt environmentally-friendly habits at a young age, while simultaneously encouraging children to engage in more inquiry-based play.
The following playground equipment can help you create a nature-inspired area at your public space:
- Tree Climb: Naturtek Tree Climbs have a treehouse panel at the top and are available in either a classic tree-like model or one with a wooden plank ladder.
- Log Slice Climber: The Log Slice Climber uses log-like platforms to promote balance and lower body strength.
- Freestanding rock and log structures: You can implement freestanding rock and log structures in your playground design to encourage a more natural environment and imaginative play.
- Palm Tree Roof: For parts of your playground that need a little more shade, the Palm Tree Roof is a nature-inspired way to help keep equipment cool.
- Tree Stump Climber: The Tree Stump Climber is available in three different heights — short, medium and tall — and encourages children to develop their maneuverability skills.
- Stacked Timber Wall: Modern design meets natural play with this Naturtek Stacked Timber Wall, a unique climbing and free play structure.
- Rocky Rambler: The Rocky Rambler resembles a natural stone walkway but is made of a safer material.
- Lumberjack Climber: The Nu-Edge X Lumberjack Climber looks like a wall of stacked logs and is a fun, challenging climb structure.
- Telescope: Adding a Telescope to your playground is an excellent way to let young players explore their interest in nature and the environment around them.
Get Commercial-Grade Playground Equipment at PlayPower Canada
Whether you’re looking for traditional playtime equipment or a natural playgrounds company, PlayPower Canada has everything you need for commercial-grade playground equipment. We are passionate about helping children engage in fun, active and imaginative play while utilizing safe, research-based playground equipment.