Why build a nature-based playground?
Well, the obvious answer is that they are really fun and kids love them. They can get dirty, create, climb, splash and burn off steam.
While that may be good enough for some, others in your community or organisation may be looking for more concrete evidence of their value before committing to the concept.
Fortunately researchers at the University of WA have found that natural playgrounds provide children with more opportunities than typical pre-formed playgrounds to develop gross-motor skills. In their literature summary of what makes a good play area they noted that contact with nature has been associated with a number of health benefits for children, such as improved cognitive function, increased creativity, improved interaction with adults, reduced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms and reduced rates of aggression.
In addition, the report 'Children's contact with the outdoors and nature: a focus on educators and educational settings' prepared by the Children & Nature Network synthesises research and studies that focus on the impact of nature education and educational settings.
Summary of key benefits
- Children who play regularly in natural settings are sick less often. Mud, sand, water, leaves, sticks, pine cones and gum nuts can help to stimulate children's immune system as well as their imagination.
- Children who spend more time outside tend to be more physically active and less likely to be overweight.
- Children who play in natural settings are more resistant to stress; have lower incidence of behavioural disorders, anxiety and depression; and have a higher measure of self-worth.
- Children who play in natural settings play in more diverse, imaginative and creative ways and show improved language and collaboration skills. Single use, repetitive play equipment becomes boring quickly.
- Natural, irregular and challenging spaces help kids learn to recognise, assess and negotiate risk and build confidence and competence.
- Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other.
- Bullying behaviour is greatly reduced where children have access to diverse nature-based play environments.
- Symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder are reduced after contact with nature.