Natural Playscapes: The Future of the Playground?

We would like your opinion about creating natural play areas for children.  This survey will take less than 5 minutes to complete. Read the post below to learn more about this project.

Ever heard of a natural playscape? No? Before I tell you what it is, take a moment now and imagine the typical playground you see in neighborhoods across the country. Does it look something like this?

Typical playground
Photo by Flickr/vastateparksstaff

Don’t get me wrong, I loved flying high in a swing and rocketing down a slide as much as the next kid. But these days, the places we take our kids to play have become very standardized, with a “cookie cutter” design. Nature has been moved outside the playground.

What if there was an alternative?

The other day, I took my 14-month-old son to the playground near our house. When I took him out of his stroller, he walked (toddled, actually) right past the big plastic and metal structures and sat on the periphery, picking up little stones, digging in the dirt with a stick, and laughing when a bird or squirrel caught his eye.

Photo/ iStock

He had created a miniature natural playscape for himself! The only ingredients needed? The natural world and his curiosity.

National Wildlife Federation wants to return nature to our children’s daily playtime by encouraging the construction of natural playscapes across the country. What would a full-scale natural playscape look like?

  • Boulders to climb
  • Ponds or streams to splash in
  • Logs to practice a balancing act
  • A multi-sensory garden to explore

Nature — back in the forefront, instead of pushed to the edge. Doesn’t mean the swings and slides have to disappear; they would just be surrounded by a more verdant environment.

Sounds fun, right? Well it turns out natural playscapes are also healthy for our kids, too. Mounting scientific evidence shows that kids who play in natural areas are more physically fit, can concentrate better, have more self-confidence, and have reduced stress and aggression. We all knew fresh air was good for kids. Now there’s proof.

NWF has begun developing guidelines to transform America’s playgrounds, schoolyards, childcare centers, museums, and zoos into quality natural play and learning areas. Here’s an example of one natural playscape project in North Carolina:

BEFORE: Genesis Academy in Burnsville, NC (2009 Play area)

Genesis Academy, before renovation

AFTER: Genesis Academy in Burnsville, NC (2010, play area improvements in progress)

We would like to know what YOU think. Will you take a brief survey about this idea to help us make introduction of natural areas a reality in your neighborhood?

And in the comments below, tell us your favorite memory about playing outside in nature as a child. We love to hear those stories!