Every parent who has ever watched a child play in nature has cause to rejoice. NWF’s guide Nature Play & Learning Places: Creating and Managing Places Where Children Engage with Nature shows how to design and manage nature play areas and bring them to children in every community.

A nature play area at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. Photo credit: Michelle Mathis of Learning Landscapes
One of the nature play areas featured in the guide is at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon, a nature play area designed around a wildlife habitat theme.  The play area is a quarter-mile loop of adventure pods. Children can climb a tree, growl like a bear, hide out in a cougar’s den, weave a bird’s nest, and look for tracks. “From the beginning of the design process Oregon Parks and Recreation Department wanted this to be a nature inspired space for kids,” said Michelle Mathis, designer of the nature play area and a contributor to the guide. “So often we are asking families to drive to a park, hike to look at the park’s beautiful scenery, then walk back (while leaving no trace). One of the main goals of the design was to create opportunities for sensory engagement with nature. We wanted to create a lasting bond between the kids and the park.”

A Chance for Kids to Reconnect Nature

Nature Play & Learning Places is a project of the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative at the College of Design, North Carolina State University. The guidelines draw from principal author Robin Moore’s extensive landscape design experience, case studies of 12 existing nature play areas across the country, and the contributions from the members of a national steering committee and a technical advisory committee, which consisted of representatives from more than 20 national organizations.

The project was funded by the US Forest Service. Children spend almost 40 hours a week on digital devices, and half the time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.  Nature play areas are an innovative way to reconnect kids with nature and build a lifelong bond with wildlife. “Nature play and learning places are an innovative and fun way to connect families with our public lands,” said Fran Mainella, former director of the National Park Service and a visiting scholar at Clemson University. “They can help us improve children’s health and learning and encourage appreciation for wildlife and natural systems.” For a free download of the guide visit http://online.nwf.org/natureplayandlearning.