Research support for naturalized playgrounds
The Natural Learning (NLI), a research and design assistance
program of the College of Design, North Carolina State University, has
conducted a number of studies that support the benefits of playground
naturalization. Findings that support the program are derived from
studies at one or more of the following research sites:
- The Environmental Yard, Washington Elementary School,
Berkeley, C.A., where study results showed play activity equally
divided between community-built play structures, a hard surfaced games
area, and a richly diverse, custom-designed nature area. This finding
suggests that children enjoy a mix of permanent, anchored play
structures, open areas, and natural settings.
- Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, Southern Pines Primary
School, N.C., which demonstrated the attractiveness of a playground
containing a mix of manufactured and natural elements.
- Kids Together Playground, Cary, N.C. is an example of the
new naturalization paradigm, which integrates manufactured play
equipment and the living landscape (Kids Together
Playground: A case study of naturalization).
- Research at a variety of childcare centers throughout North
Carolina produced findings, which showed that curvy pathways, anchored
play structures, open areas, and compact layouts support higher levels
of physical activity. A further study demonstrated that children were
more active in playgrounds where equipment and nature were integrated
- Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito, C.A., where study
results demonstrated the attractiveness of settings designed for
Child development benefits of naturalization
Naturalized playgrounds can be designed, managed, and
programmed to integrate three crucial agendas for children's healthy
development: active living; educational success through engagement with
diverse, living environments; and healthy social and psychological
development through spontaneous creative play.
- Naturalized playgrounds increase diversity of play
opportunities, thereby supporting social interaction and physical
development of a wide range of children. Diverse play settings meet
individual needs according to stages of development, learning styles,
personality types, friendship patterns, and culture.
- Children in nature are engaged in more creative and
- Naturalization provides broader inclusion of children of
various abilities and increases social interaction among children with
different socioeconomic and ethnic/racial backgrounds.
- More creative play opportunities around play equipment can
reduce social conflict on multi-use structures where crowding and
boredom can increase the potential for bullying and the risk of
slipping or tripping.
- Increased levels of physical activity result from chasing
and hide-and-go-seek games stimulated by topographical variety, curvy
pathways, and shrubs and shade trees located around manufactured
equipment. This may reduce the possibility of children running on the
equipment, which is discouraged by the industry.
- Naturalized playgrounds are aligned with education
philosophies that consider the outdoor environment as an educational
resource supporting child development as a holistic psychological,
social, and cognitive process. Naturalization provides hands-on
experiences and opportunities to bring classroom learning outdoors.
- Gains in student competence, social studies, science,
language arts, and math occur for children attending schools with
- Heightened sensory stimulation, exploration, and discovery
of natural objects and phenomena stimulate active learning, creativity,
- Environmental educators see nature play as a key strategy
for engaging urban children with the experiential richness of the
natural world. Opportunities for extending learning processes outdoors
increase options for meeting state-mandated curricular objectives,
certifications, and learning through play.
- Changing seasons and daily natural environment dynamics
contribute to novel play experiences for children.
- Deeper emotional attachment to nature and increased
understanding of the natural world by children can increase long-term
environmental stewardship as adults.
Health benefits of naturalization
- Reduces attention deficit disorder symptoms in children as
young as five years old.
- Produces feelings of peace, self-control, and
self-discipline within inner city youth, particularly girls.
- Reduces stress in children through contact with plants,
green views, and access to natural play areas.
- Increases children’s ability to focus and enhances their
- Develops capacities for creative problem solving, as well
as intellectual and emotional development.
- Motivates children to be more physically active, more aware
of nutrition, more civil to one another, and more creative by
experiencing diverse, natural school playgrounds.
- Enhances self-esteem, self-confidence, independence,
autonomy, and initiative in teens.
- Provides sun protection and skin cancer prevention.
for the guidebook
New health research recognizes everyday outdoor play in nature as a
powerful preventive strategy for healthy childhood development —
including protection against childhood obesity.