If you are over the age of 40, you will probably understand this question better than someone in their 20s or 30s will. There was a time not so long ago when children only played on playgrounds at school, unless they were lucky enough to have parents that could afford to purchase a small swing set for the backyard. The rest of us played in nature’s playground where we built forts out of broken branches and limbs, climbed trees, played hide-n-seek in the tall grass or the grove of trees next door, dammed up small creeks to create ingredients for mud pies, planted seeds, jumped in leaves and basically played in the dirt. Today, children want elaborate climbing structures constructed from metal and heavy plastic in order to use their imagination.
Fortunately, there is a current push for playgrounds that are constructed from natural materials. These playgrounds are called “Natural Playgrounds” and they are cropping up in urban areas throughout the United States. The unique design of these playgrounds combines the natural landscapes of the area with specific natural materials brought in and arranged in such a way to encourage children to explore, imagine and create as the play. These playgrounds still provide children with all of the important elements of other playgrounds such as gross motor activities, problem solving, social interaction and risk taking but it does so in an environment that encourages children to appreciate nature in a whole new way. Typical components of natural playgrounds may include logs to climb through, flowers, earth shapes, hills to roll down, trees to climb, grasses and shrubs, boulders or other rock structures, dirt and sand, natural water features and fences that are constructed from stone, willow or wood. The other benefit of a natural playground in a school setting is that the playground can also be used as an outside classroom to teach students about weather, earth science and other subjects that come to life when taught in a natural environment.
The beauty of these playgrounds is that they use the existing landscape and build upon what is already there to create and unique, one-of-a-kind playground that encourages children to use their imagination and their motor skills together to play outdoors. The benefits of natural playgrounds is quickly becoming a topic in many communities throughout the country as parents realize their children are losing touch with nature and the environment and long to see their children playing outside as they did when they were children. Numerous companies have opened to help individuals plan and construct natural playgrounds. While we do not endorse any particular company, we wanted to give our readers a few examples to see how these wonderful playgrounds are being used today.