Why Natural Playgrounds?
One of the great childhood pleasures is the opportunity to play outside. Being in nature awakens the senses, calms the mind and provides a platform for creativity. Natural playgrounds allow children to engage in open-ended, creative play that weaves physical challenge and imagination together to stimulate thinking and develop social skills. Tree stumps become table tops or lily pads to jump from. Simple structures are transformed into ships, houses or farms. Children can seek out the physical stimulation they need as they swing, spin and climb developing strength and balance. Natural playgrounds use simple materials to enhance play and invite exploration.
The outdoors provide children with a calm, sensory-rich environment to develop their bodies and ideas. Natural colors soothe the senses rather than overstimulating them. In natural play environments, children find varied terrain they must negotiate developing many different muscle groups and sensing capacities. Children naturally work to integrate their senses as they plan how fast to move, how high to jump or how much force to use. In a natural play environment, the function of the equipment is not prescribed and children can bring their imagination to bear.
We start with the premise that kids should be presented with Beautiful Things to play on and with. We use naturally rot-resistant wood such as cedar and black locust to construct our Natural Playgrounds. We keep milled wood to a minimum to keep the allure of nature and minimize maintenance. We build beautiful natural landscapes and embed the play components in a way that doesn’t look like a playground but functions like one. While building everything to ASTM and CPSC standards, we don’t sacrifice play value. Here are points to remember when picking your natural playground provider:
- We build natural playgrounds that are compliant.
- Our products are truly natural. We don’t use pressure treated wood, and we keep milled wood to a minimum.
- Unlike most wooden playgrounds that need treating a few times a year, our natural playgrounds need very little maintenance.
Composite Natural Playsets
Natural Playsets are beautiful combinations of play events hand built from hardwoods. Children can move freely while exercising large muscle groups to develop a sense of balance. Our playsets are composed of woods, nets, and ropes that blend harmoniously with the natural environment. You may choose to order a set that calls to mind a ship, a teepee, a treehouse or something from your imagination. Your children will clamor to play with these inspiring designs.
Sensory Play – Water/Sand, Music
Sensory play is an essential and exciting part of the outdoor experience. Engaging with mud, sand, and water provides sensory feedback for the development of the senses. Different substances provide variable feedback and help children develop both fine motor strength, through squishing and building, and fine motor coordination as they orchestrate actions toward a purpose. These have later application when children begin to draw and write and must tightly control their actions. Frequent exposure to sensory elements also safeguards against tactile defensiveness, when children become overly concerned with mud or sand on their hands and begin to disengage from the environment. Increasing sensory experiences helps to integrate the senses and lays the foundation for future learning.
Our mud kitchens provide children the chance to experiment with mud or sand to develop fine motor skills. Combinations of sand and water boxes with flow-through designs are endlessly fascinating. Large sand pits can be designed with tree stump borders and water features. Also, consider the musical instruments for your play space. You may want to add chimes, kettle drums or bells to further develop imaginative play. A good sensory play experience will encourage ever-deepening connections to the natural environment.
Landscape Designs – Hills, Tunnels, Labyrinths
When designing your play space you can work with the landscape to form contoured mounds or tunnels to create new and exciting opportunities for play. Mounds can be covered with grass or turf and children will delight to run, roll or even bring sleds and bikes along for the fun. Tunnels can be worked into the design in creative ways to inspire even more dramatic play. Embankment slides can be built into hillsides. It may even be possible to recreate natural features such as meadows with meandering paths or labyrinths to wander through.
When children swing in long motions or turn in circles they stimulate among other things, their vestibular sense. As they move up and down, fluid moves across the tiny hairs in the inner ear allowing the child to orient his body in space. Children must activate this sense every day in order to develop their spatial awareness. Enough swinging and spinning provide good coordination, accurate body awareness and a strong sense of balance.
Climbing is an excellent activity for integrating the senses and building strength. When children climb they must use their big muscle groups and core strength to coordinate their actions. If the structure they are climbing is open-ended and can be explored in many different ways, they must activate their vestibular sense and recognize where their body is in space before choosing a hand or foothold. As they climb higher and activate their muscles they experience new gravitational loads and different forms of resistance on the body which over time, strengthens bones and tissues.
Balancing offers a wonderful opportunity to integrate the senses to conquer a task. When children balance they are activating their core muscles, recognizing where their body is in space and coordinating all of this information to achieve fluid movement. Children feel a sense of accomplishment when they can balance in new ways and learn best when equipment allows them to invent novel challenges.
“Loose Parts” play is based on the idea that children should be able to act on and change the environment. The “Loose Parts” are items that are brought to the playground and can be used by the children in a variety of ways to stimulate imaginative play. This could include tree rounds, hay bales, bamboo poles, play cloth, wooden boards, boxes, or pebbles of different sizes. For the more adventurous among us, it could include hammers, nails, and saws. When children engage in loose parts play they can build tents, mud kitchens or balance boards. The parent or teacher encouraging play can determine what items might spark the children’s imagination and provide those items for the playground. To keep children interested and growing with their playground, it is advised that items be changed monthly or seasonally.
Scents and Soundscapes
When designing your playground it is important to keep in mind that play develops the senses. It is possible to create an interesting scent-scape around and within your playground. You may want to plant herbs such as mint or basil. Children will recognize their strong scents and find many uses for their plucked leaves. Perennial herbs such as thyme are also a good choice as they establish themselves over time and children will look forward to their regeneration in the spring. Different mulches are a source of scenting variety around your playground. Cedar mulch has a different scent and texture than pine bark and you may want to provide both for the children. Grasses that change color across the seasons are another source of delight.
Sounds of nature can be incorporated by hanging bells or wind chimes that register a breeze or become the dinner bell calling classmates together. Bamboo groves or grassy enclosures can create a place of quiet and magic within the playground. Approach your playground as a creative space and many possibilities will present themselves.
Check Out Our Most Recent Natural Playground Project!