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
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
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
- “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
- 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