10 Ways Natural Playgrounds Encourage Child Development

Playgrounds play a key part in a child’s development. Climbing structures help with confronting dangers, while the interaction involved with a play environment helps to develop social skills. Clearly, playing outside helps children grow and develop. Adventure playgrounds built using wood, stone, sand and water, are a growing trend thanks to their sustainability and their suitability in a wide variety of landscapes. Put simply, they blend more seamlessly into different environments – from National Trust parks to schoolyards. However, the natural elements of play also benefit children’s development. Here’s how:

1. More versatile play
Fixed, unnatural playground equipment limits development. There is a finite number of ways for children to play creatively. When children become bored, accidents are more likely to occur and as such, providing versatility in play is key (Frost 1985, cited in Striniste & Moore, 1989).

2. Greater visual appeal
One study has found that children actively prefer natural materials and forms in playgrounds. This helps engender imagination and encourages children to interact with the playground. Again, boredom can cause accidents in playgrounds – so visual appeal is also vital. Installing natural play elements was also found to improve children’s spatial cognitive awareness, socialisation and fantasy play skills. (Herrington & Studmann, 1998). Environmentally, natural playgrounds are a better fit for national parks or other scenic areas.

3. Develop construction skills
Incorporating move able objects such as sand, logs, pebbles and rocks, natural playgrounds often also include buckets, spades, string or fabric. These can be used by children to learn construction skills. Natural play encourages creativity through the interaction of these elements. These construction projects, such as digging channels in sand or creating dams in water channels with pebbles, provide satisfaction to children.

Those children who do develop construction skills through play have been found to work more cooperatively. Research has shown that this helps with problem solving and creative thinking. A further study by Hestenes, Shin & DeBord (2007) found that in playgrounds that used natural elements, children were far more likely to use constructive play over functional play.

4. Increased physical fitness
The uneven landscapes and play equipment in natural playgrounds are beneficial to exercise: whether that’s climbing a wall, jumping over barriers, climbing over log structures or building their construction skills, a child’s physical fitness will improve.

5. Development of social skills
Compared to indoor play environments, outdoor playgrounds stimulate larger projects through the size and variety of equipment available. These larger projects generally encourage more sociodramatic play themes, as children tackle bigger obstacles in groups. (Davies, 1996).

6. Essential cognitive development
Pretend play and divergent thinking is supported by playground design, studies have shown. Creativity varies as a result of playground design – more pretend play and creativity occurs as a result of contemporary natural playgrounds compared to traditional designs.

7. Working together
Natural playgrounds promote the opportunity to work together, as opposed to traditional playgrounds that use monkey bars, slides and swings to encourage competition. Natural playgrounds create opportunities to construct solutions or confront problems together.

8. Length of play
Research has found that natural playgrounds encourage longer periods of active play. This increase in playtime has the additional benefit of providing better physical fitness. Put simply: your child will absorb more of the benefits of playtime, since natural playgrounds increase overall time playing.

9. Interaction with teachers
Taking the role of observer and guide, teachers are fundamental to play in schools. Teachers were found to be more likely to support and facilitate a child’s development when in the presence of higher quality outdoor play equipment. (DeBord et al., 2005)

10. Dealing with risk
Confronting risk — within reason — is an important part of a child’s development. Natural play areas are a good way to present elements of risk thanks to climbing and jumping challenges – but balanced with safety measures such as soft landing surfaces and generally softer equipment.

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  1. Continued Reseach and Investigation is Important. It seems we need to value our surroundings etc. Outdoors can be fun, fresh air, exercise, feel good hormones (endorphins etc), though Health and Safety are also Important Issues.

    Wishing you Fruits of the Spirit :- Kindness, Joy, Peace, etc.

    Rachel Craig

  2. Playtime is such an important time, a time of learning, exploring etc

    Rachel Craig

  3. Megan loves nothing more than playing outside we are lucky enough to have a few nature reserves near us and she loves exploring the insects, climbing and playing outdoors, my son is nearly 13 and would prefer his Xbox or tablet but does enjoy it when we persuade him to come xxx

  4. Great for encouraging active children-ive found that when we're at our local country park they all have oodles more energy and sleep better too