There is a plethora of information available on how Nature Play is so beneficial for children and how we need to help them connect with nature as much as possible.
This article is not about the philosophy of Nature Play, it’s about how you can successfully provide opportunities for Nature inspired Play.
Here are a few learnings and discoveries we have made over the years that will help you get the best possible outcome when planning and building a Nature inspired Play area:
1. It’s all about the Pathways
Yes, you need lots of areas where children can dig and delve and get the dirt and sand between their fingers and toes, but durable and easy to maintain access pathways are critical to a nature play area that is inviting for children and pleasant to use.
Of course if you have 50 acres of land where kids can roam free you probably need no pathways at all. But in most cases where we are trying to offer nature play within a given smaller space you need durable pathways so the play area does not get that “worn out and over used” look.
We’re not saying you need broad strips of concrete or paving. Scale them down to kid size so they don’t overwhelm the area and make them interesting in shape and texture.
We’ve seen too many “scorched earth” looking play areas that were intended for nature play but energetic over-use, especially when they are just completed, resulted in them soon looking very tired and unattractive to any child.
This is often simply the result of not providing hard wearing pathways that can withstand the foot traffic.
2. Then there are the Plantings
Plant hardy and quick recovery plants generously.
Nature Play areas can cop a hiding, especially if they become so popular they are hardly recovering between high levels of use. Ample plantings of fast growing and safe plants will ensure the Nature Play area has a look of welcoming abundance.
3. The Linger Nodes
Children and parents need a reason to stop and consider, or stop and play.
Make sure your Nature Play area has plenty of these. They might be a large rock they can perch on, a sandpit they can dig in, a small natural amphitheatre or some integrated water play that gives them cause to linger and play.
Remember the longer you can encourage children to stay the more use and benefit they get from the experience.
4. The Vantage Points
Everybody loves getting up high to see what’s around. Kids seem to do this automatically.
See if you can create a high vantage point, or two, in your Nature Play area.
Contoured land shapes, trees and logs they can climb, or even thoughtfully built structures that provide a lookout, are very important to encourage the instinct of seeing what’s around and how far the kingdom actually extends!
5. The Secret Hideouts
As well as high viewing points kids love small secret spaces and will seek out the hideaways and the natural cubbies of any play space.
Try to create spaces that give the feeling of safety but provide a good visual range so they can see plenty of the surroundings and you can still see them. This can be done with long grasses, small openings in planted areas furnished with wigwam sticks or spaces between large logs and boulders.
Give them a reason to stay by providing rock and log seats or even a hammock if possible.
6. Encouraging Frequency of Use
Engaging with nature is not a one shot wonder, as we all know. Our mission (all of us) as custodians of play areas for our future generations is to provide spaces where children will want to play often and stay longer.
Of course, all of the above points are what will make this happen but it’s important to know this is the outcome we are looking for. Children will grow in their love and appreciation of playing in a natural environment only if they can do it regularly.
Remember your own childhood and the times when you roamed and played in the natural environment. Our children still need these opportunities.
Nature Play is an area of huge interest to us at Moduplay.
Yes, even though we are well known as builders of what you could call “traditional playgrounds”!
We see, on a daily basis, the many benefits of providing healthy play opportunities in any form, and we have always encouraged the provision of more Nature Play providing it is built with the right principles in mind.
Nobody likes to see money wasted on great intentions that are poorly executed and we hope this article helps you build more successful Nature Play environments.
Those points again:
3. Linger nodes
4. Vantage points
5. Secret hideouts
6. Frequency of use
They might seem obvious but you may be surprised how often they are overlooked.
Make contact with our design team if you would like more help with this. We don’t claim to have all the ideas even though we do have lots of experience. And that’s experience that we are more than willing to share with you freely.
When you succeed with play space design all of our children prosper.
To speak with our Playground Design Consultants click here.