Natural Play Areas
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of…education”.
– Luther Burbank
While the resources of local authorities have been cut back, there is still a demand for play areas from communities.
The focus of design is moving away from a sole reliance on fixed play equipment with rubber surfaces and fencing, which can be very expensive.
These Videos will help illustrate how we can improved learning, behaviour, physical activity and creativity – through natural play materials and landscapes.
Some Important Definitions:
Manufactured items, bought from a supplier. These have been purposely designed and built as play pieces. The design will have dealt with many of the inherent risks and they are often supplied with a certificate of conformity, e.g. timber play equipment.
The provision of a play opportunity within a structured play area but using something from the natural environment rather than a purpose built piece of equipment e.g. the use of a tree trunk as a climbing frame or balance beam. The piece is usually modified to provide safer access e.g. some delimbing / shortening of branches to limit traps and heights.
Opportunistic play using something you would expect to find in the environment you are in. There is no planned intention for play to be part of the management of this feature, e.g. seashore or woodland.
An alternative approach is to design for a more natural playground, with grass mounds, logs, boulders, willow tunnels, sand, water and a few pieces of fixed equipment with loose-fill surfacing such as woodchips or sand.
Such natural play areas may be a fraction of the cost of a conventional playground.
A more natural play area has a very high play value and meets children’s needs for exposure to natural materials for fun and imagination. Standards for fixed equipment would not apply so a risk assessment may be needed.
Consultation with children is essential in the design of play areas.
The prime purpose of creating a more natural play space is to maximise play value and to create inspiring places for children. A risk – benefit analysis enables us to do this while still providing as much safety as is necessary. Guidance in producing a risk-benefit analysis may be found in Ball,D., Gill, T, and Spiegal, B. 2008. Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide. Play England
A range of useful ideas can be found in the publications in the Library Section.
See also :
“Garden of Possibilities” DVD, – Early Childhood Ireland € 8”.
“The Scrapbook of Outdoor Play Ideas” DVD, – Border Counties Childcare Network” – You can get details at Early Childhood Ireland
“Learning Outdoors in the early Years: A resource book” 2005, € 20 also from the BCCN at http://www.bccn.ie/”.
“Last child in the woods” – “Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit” – Louv, R. 2010 Atlantic Books.
Richard Louv’s Book, – discusses some studies suggesting that a lack of contact with the natural environment leads to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. One study suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a reduction in indicators of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac may increase them (1) Another study suggests that playing out of doors improves children’s observation and reasoning (2), while another that outdoor education enhances reading, writing, science and maths.
1. Taylor, A.F., Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan, W.C., 2001, ‘Coping with ADD: the surprising connection to green play settings’, Environment and Behavior. Vol. 33. No.1, pp. 54-77.
2. Pyle, R. 2002. ‘Eden in a vacant lot: special places, species and kids in community life’, in Kahn, P.H. and Kellert, S.R., Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations. MIT press, Cambridge MA.
Nature Play Ideas – Forestry Commission
Simple and Fun Ideas for All
There are four downloadable reports from the Forestry Commission in the UK who are developing natural play opportunities in recreational forests.
Nature Play: Simple and fun ideas for all.
Growing Adventure – A report on a project to develop the FC’s activity around children’s play and leisure. Central to the project are two interconnected ideas: that nature, adventure and challenge are part of the essence of woodland sites and make them ideal places for children to play, and that free play is a valuable developmental and learning process for all children.
Design Guidance for Play Spaces
Rope Swings, dens, treehouses and fires
You can get the details here – Forestry Commission – England
Play is a Natural Part of both Human and Animal experience !