Benefits of Natural and Nature-Inspired Playgrounds

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 listed below.

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What is a Nature Playground?

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 structure, 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
  • Large sandboxes
  • 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 planting and digging
  • Stacked timber climbing walls
  • Tree stumps for stepping and balancing
  • Web climbers made of rope and wood
  • Soft beds of sand, mulch or grass

Kid walking across steppers

Nature Playgrounds vs. Nature-Inspired Playground Equipment

It’s no secret that exposure to nature is beneficial for children’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. Nature-inspired playgrounds provide the perfect opportunity to introduce kids to the great outdoors and allow them to interact with their environment. While nature playgrounds focus on incorporating the actual environment into the playground, nature-inspired playgrounds take those elements — including sights, sounds and textures — and mix them with traditional playground materials.

On a nature playground, kids might walk across a balance beam made from real trees, climb real rocks or glide down a slide built onto an existing hill. On a nature-inspired playground, kids will see more standard and familiar structures like climbers, panels, enclosures, steppers and spring riders that draw on features of nature. For example, kids can climb on a structure that looks like a ladybug or walk across a deck that looks like a natural wood bridge.

With nature-inspired elements, you can combine playground equipment that promotes quality and durability while immersing kids in nature. Nature-inspired playgrounds capture the wonder of the outdoors with play equipment designed to meet their physical needs and accommodate their abilities. While kids get moving on these playgrounds, they’ll enjoy adventuring and learning more about the world through different designs, colors and patterns that reflect the natural world around them. Nature-inspired equipment on an outdoor playground provides the perfect landscape for kids to absorb themselves in the natural world. Not to mention, nature-inspired playground equipment is easy to maintain.

As children spend more time with electronics and digital media, it’s important to encourage spending time outdoors and enjoying nature. Nature-inspired playgrounds play a critical role in achieving this goal and help kids build an appreciation for the outdoors as they learn about different plants, animals and weather patterns through play.

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Benefits of Natural and Nature-Inspired Playgrounds

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 equipment. 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.

Nature-inspired playgrounds can promote inclusivity and accessibility by combining the wonder of the outdoors with a customized space that brings all children together regardless of their needs. Instead of having separate areas for children with disabilities or who use mobile devices, nature-inspired playgrounds encourage all children to interact in the same space and engage in sensory experiences.

Wheelchairs, walkers and similar devices are welcome on nature-inspired playgrounds and help all children maneuver freely and explore the many play options of the custom equipment.

Whether a child wants to play pretend with others or have a quiet moment to themselves outdoors, nature-inspired playgrounds provide plenty of accessible pathways and activities for all kids to experience inclusive and parallel play, including:

In nature-inspired playgrounds, children can feel connected to others and the world around them through a wide range of accessible play experiences that delight and challenge them.

2. They Encourage Children to Play Creatively

Natural playgrounds encourage creativity in children by eliminating structure and expectations and replacing them with stimulating play experiences and new textures. 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. Creating a balance of nature-inspired and natural playground equipment lets you design a play area with all the benefits of nature-inspired play while providing children with durable materials and splinter-free equipment.

3. They Help Children Be More Active

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 activities that strengthen muscles and bones several times 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 and muscle and bone-strengthening activities several 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 Improve Social Skills

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:

  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Conflict resolution
  • Interaction with people that look and act differently
  • Communication

The social skills children learn during these formative years create a strong foundation for future social skills to develop, like problem-solving and adaptability.

Children playing on a climbing wall

5. They Aid in the Development of Motor Skills

Another great benefit of nature-inspired playgrounds is their ability to aid in the development of motor skills. By playing on a nature playground, children engage all of their senses through touching, feeling and collecting natural objects. They’re also exposed to various textures, different sounds and activities. As a result, their fine motor skills are challenged and strengthened.

6. They Allow Children to Learn More About Nature

Because of the way they are designed, natural and nature-inspired 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 nature-inspired 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.
  • Full Noodle Roof: For parts of your playground that need a little more shade, the Full Noodle 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.

Contact a member of our team to learn more about what a natural playground can offer your school, park or place of worship — or request a quote today!

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