The Importance of Natural Playgrounds and Playscapes

What are Natural Playgrounds or Playscapes?

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Photo by Sam Iwinski

Natural playgrounds or playscapes are highly interactive and creative play environments that may consist of different elements from the earth, such as tree logs, tree stumps, plants, and paths instead of a traditional plastic or steel playground structure.

They could be in designated areas within a park or field, or they could be anywhere that is fit for people to enjoy and play!

What are the benefits of Natural Playgrounds or Playscapes?

A natural playscape can be more accessible and approachable for different families and locations. It can create a balance of safety and adventure for families, allowing people more freedom to play and explore (Zuo, Wei, & Cong, 2020). Playing in nature can promote children’s cognitive, social, and physical development, so these natural playgrounds may be an essential resource for children to develop and grow (Zuo, Wei, & Cong, 2020; Torkar & Rejc, 2017; Luchs & Fikus, 2013)! Researchers have found that children are more physically active on forest playgrounds than traditional playgrounds. This may be due to the wide range of playing and learning opportunities on natural playgrounds (Torkar & Rejc, 2017).

In one study, Dr. Dina Izenstark and Dr. Aaron Ebata (from the HIN Project) conducted a study to evaluate Champaign County Forest Preserve’s new Homer Lake Natural Playscape (pictured below). They found that parents and families thought the natural playscape encouraged a sense of togetherness and had “something for everyone”. It increased family interactions, and many participants indicated that the natural playscape was better than most other outdoor parks or play areas in the area. Overall, natural playgrounds and playscapes may offer another opportunity for families, children, and people of all ages to go outside and spend time connecting with nature!

Natural Playground Challenge

Now, we want you all to try and find or create a natural playground/playscape. Tag us in your creations or local natural playgrounds with the tag #HumansInNature or #HINProject! We look forward to seeing what you all find and create!

For more information you can look at the sites below!

https://www.ccfpd.org/forest-preserve/homer/playscape

https://www.urbanaparks.org/facilities/friendship-grove-nature-playscape/

https://www.installitdirect.com/learn/how-to-build-a-natural-playscape/

References:

Izenstark, D., and Ebata, A. (2014). “Connecting Children and Families to Nature.” (Oct. 18, 2014).

Luchs, A., & Fikus, M. (2013). A comparative study of active play on differently designed playgrounds. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning13(3), 206-222.

Torkar, G., & Rejc, A. (2017). Children’s Play and Physical Activity in Traditional and Forest (Natural) Playgrounds. International Journal of Educational Methodology3(1), 25-30.

Zuo, K., Wei, L., & Cong, Y. (2020). Exploration of Natural Playgrounds in Urban Parks: Promoting Children’s Health. Planning5(4), 122-131.

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