What is NatureGrounds?
NatureGrounds: Putting Nature Into Play is a comprehensive program that provides best practice guidelines for creating and retrofitting play environments for parks and school grounds that integrate manufactured play equipment and the living landscape. The purpose of NatureGrounds is to create a dramatic shift in the standard playground development process by deliberately designing nature back into children’s lives, not only to benefit children’s play but also to engage communities in working together to create richer play experience for all users.
Bringing nature back into children’s lives
Remember when time stood still as we played outdoors with best friends, enjoying the wonders of the world around us? We learned to interact with each other and our natural surroundings — climbing trees, swinging on branches, playing games, or enjoying the quiet contemplation of leaves floating down a stream. Elements of nature created magical expressions of childhood musings about the world.
Like children throughout the ages, we experienced the universal childhood delights of discovery and fascination set free by boundless imaginations and unstructured play in nature — even in a few square feet.
New health research recognizes everyday outdoor play in nature as a powerful preventive strategy for healthy childhood development — including protection against childhood obesity.
A generation ago playing outdoors in nature was usually taken for granted; but times have changed. Now, nature must be deliberately designed back into children’s lives. In today’s urban and suburban environments, natural spaces are often too remotely located for visiting on a regular basis.
A playground paradigm shift
The industrial playground model based solely on manufactured equipment is being reconsidered. A greater diversity of play opportunities is desired to extend curricular activity in schools and to meet the needs of a broader range of children and their families in parks. The integration of natural components helps fulfill these needs as well as creating richer play experiences for all users.
Safety and playgrounds
Contemporary playground components are manufactured to meet high quality industrial design standards of health and safety. Constant upgrading and innovation are recognized characteristics of the playground industry. National injury statistics show compliant playgrounds to be much safer than other everyday childhood environments.
Playground safety, which has been the focus of playground design for the last fifteen years, has reached the point where children may find playgrounds boring and therefore not attractive for everyday use or for repeat visits.
To counteract this trend, naturalization is an effective strategy to stimulate, motivate, and encourage children’s play, and to increase the attraction of playgrounds for children and caregivers.
Playgrounds cannot fully eliminate risk and indeed should provide children with opportunities to engage in healthy risk taking and activities that provide developmentally appropriate challenges. On the other hand, providing safer environments must continue to be a priority with every effort made to reduce unforeseen hazards.
Naturalization adds value to play equipment structures by enhancing their visual quality as focal points, thereby attracting children outdoors to use parks and school grounds. Equipment, combined with natural elements, tells children that playgrounds are their special places. The added comfort and aesthetic enhancement of nature encourage accompanying adults to also become enthusiastic users.
Why naturalized playgrounds?
Inspired by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, a grassroots movement advocating outdoor play in nature is growing across the USA and Canada, driven by parents, environmental educators, recreation and health promotion professionals, naturalists, and others. Naturalized playgrounds can support the outdoor play in nature movement in many ways:
Play structures are heavily used by children
“Children and nature” and “active childhood” community initiatives and legislation are focusing attention on the spaces of children’s daily lives, including playgrounds
Innovative projects generate positive press and new funding streams
“Mixed” play environments are more attractive and comfortable for adults, encouraging caregivers to spend more time outdoors with their children
Well-designed playgrounds are a primary attraction for families using neighborhood and community parks
Naturalization adds visual interest, shade, and comfort — resulting in sustained repeat visits, a relaxed and playful social atmosphere, and growth of community social capital
Users of all abilities discover a wider range of play opportunities
Curvy pathways provide attractive, accessible, active settings for children, and social strolling by adults
Naturalization provides new opportunities for nature-based professionals to offer rich outdoor educational and recreation programs for a wide range of children