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Natural Playgrounds: Inspiring Playground Equipment and Changing the Way We Play

The typical playgrounds of yesteryear with cement, swings, and slides are starting to become a fading memory. Natural playgrounds have gained popularity in recent years, with many schools, daycares, and communities choosing to install these new play places where children can explore. As their use grows, questions about natural playgrounds abound.

What Are Natural Playgrounds?

A natural playground consists of different elements from the standard playground equipment. Instead of jungle gyms, swing sets and merry-go-rounds, a natural playground features elements like living plants, water, sand, and rocks. Some communities call natural playgrounds "natural classrooms" because of the virtually limitless opportunity for learning when children spend time in these areas. When children spend time in a natural playground, they use all of their senses to explore and learn about nature. Natural playgrounds typically incorporate elements of the specific locality into the space, which helps youngsters learn about their natural environment. For example, a natural playground can incorporate a garden and growing areas filled with plants that are native to the area. The playground design will naturally enable kids to find shelter and shade for play as well as seek the bright open spaces. Play areas will enable free movement, swinging, jumping, climbing, crawling, and balancing.

What Do Natural Playgrounds Look Like?

A common theme of natural playgrounds is the stark absence of manufactured equipment like monkey bars and slides. Natural playgrounds incorporate areas where children can still be active and explore, but in a natural setting. A play area surrounded by towering sunflowers or cascading willow branches might provide an enthralling spot where kids can play hide and seek or set up housekeeping in a pretend house. Expect to see topography designed to give children areas of active play, including sand pits, stone walls, berms of varying height and size, water courses, and mud pits. A natural amphitheater might be the perfect spot for an impromptu skit put on by a group of young friends. A path system will generally wind its way throughout the park, providing easy access to every corner. Comfortable benches will sit in tempting spots to enable park-goers to rest and enjoy their surroundings. Grassy fields and knolls will give youngsters wide-open spaces for running, jumping, and rolling down hills. The natural environment typically has engaging surprises, such as sundials and rain gauges for children to explore. Some natural playgrounds might even feature a challenge course for active kids to tackle, with ropes, climbing walls, and obstacle courses. Exploring the playground more carefully might even turn up a hidden tide pool, rock sculptures, and a sound garden where visitors must sit silently to appreciate the sounds from within.

Natural Park and Playground Equipment

What Materials Are Used in Building Natural Playgrounds?

The materials used in natural playground construction will generally be natural instead of synthetic. Common materials in a natural playground include sand, rocks, boulders, native plants, water, and large natural structures such as rocks and wood.

How Do Natural Playgrounds Impact the Environment?

With their smaller building and operating expenses, natural playgrounds often make economical sense. These playgrounds can also make environmental sense because they tend to be more sustainable than traditional playgrounds. Typical playgrounds wear out and become obsolete over just a few years, necessitating updates to maintain safety. Natural playgrounds do not require the same upgrades for safety. The carbon footprint of traditional playgrounds is also high when compared to that of natural playgrounds due to the manufacturing, shipping, and upgrades necessary for this equipment. Natural playgrounds use space efficiently and allow children the opportunity to enjoy entertainment and exercise from nature.

Are Natural Playgrounds Safe?

Most playground accidents happen when children climb and fall off of manufactured structures like jungle gyms. With natural playgrounds, free-standing structures that take children to dangerous heights are not a part of the environment. Although the playground might feature rocks and berms for climbing, the design would always feature a thick layer of wood chips around these areas to cushion any falls. Even with climbing walls in a natural playground, the design can feature fall zones with shock-absorbing materials to create a safe area.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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