Over the past few decades, there has been an increasing awareness of the benefits of natural play environments for children’s physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Natural play essentially means playing in communion with natural elements in a natural, outdoor environment. Research has shown that children without access to play opportunities outdoors can have negative effects on a child’s physical, mental and emotional development, as well as reducing their sense of identification with their environment. However, parents, teachers and childcare providers can be rightfully concerned about allowing children into the wild to climb trees, scramble up rocks and play in streams or ponds. Incorporating elements of nature – such as boulders, tree trunks and mounds – into your outdoor play equipment scheme provides access to the benefits of natural play within a safe and controlled environment.
The benefits of natural play
The results of a four year longitudinal study by the Forestry Commission on the benefits of natural play on children’s wellbeing showed the significant positive impact of natural outdoor playground equipment. Creating a natural play environment within a school not only led to an increase in physical activity amongst the pupils, but actually led to a marked reduction in reports of bullying and physical injuries, as well as enhancing opportunities for social interaction between boys and girls across age ranges. According to Harry Harbottle, a consultant in play and risk management, ‘the benefits of outdoor play are really very basic… If children aren’t allowed to engage with the elements – mud, water, air, even fire – how can they begin to understand the world that they live in?’
Natural Outdoor Playground Equipment
Children’s imaginations are limitless, and open ended, natural play elements facilitate inventive, creative engagement. Something as simple as a tree trunk can, in the hands of children, become anything – from a train to a pirate ship to a tightrope in a circus. Creating natural play mounds into your outdoor playscape not only provides a focal point for play – for example a den, or a base in a game of tag – and a challenging terrain, it also offers a cost effective and environmentally friendly solution to the issue of dispersing any soil that has been dug up in the landscaping of your playground. Features such as tunnels can also be incorporated into such a scheme for added interest and play value.
To encourage engagement with the elements and develop an understanding of the environment, how about introducing an Eco-Inspection Table into your scheme? This table is perfect for schools wishing to develop outdoor learning provision, it comes complete with buckets to collect nature’s treasure and is the perfect shape and height for children to gather round and inspect and discuss the natural trinkets they have found.
Natural play for wellbeing.
Children are naturally inquisitive and curious about the world in which they live, and playing outdoors only develops this instinctive interest in and connection with the environment. When designing your playscape, it is worth incorporating natural play elements to harness children’s essential creativity, and make a positive impact on their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
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