Press Release: Unique Playground Initiative “Puts Nature Into Play”

A grassroots movement advocating outdoor play in nature is spreading across the USA and Canada, as a growing body of research reveals a strong link between children’s experiences of being outdoors in nature and their psychological well-being and overall development. Now more than ever, it is critical to encourage outdoor play and find ways to reconnect children to nature. PlayCore ( and its partner the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI,, a design and assistance program of the College of Design, North Carolina State University, are pleased to announce the first-of-its-kind NatureGrounds® program, which enables children, families, and communities to experience the many benefits of playing in nature.

NatureGrounds®: Putting Nature Into Play™ provides best practice guidelines for creating and retrofitting play environments that integrate manufactured play equipment and the living landscape. These naturalization strategies offer a new, alternative paradigm for the playground industry, responding directly to the need for children to be outdoors engaging with nature. 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.

Robin Moore, Dipl. Arch, MCP and Nilda Cosco, Ph.D, of the Natural Learning Initiative have conducted extensive research that demonstrates play environments that incorporate natural elements and manufactured play equipment support diverse play experiences for people of all ages and abilities. “We see the NatureGrounds program as an opportunity to inspire landscape architects, designers, and park and recreation professionals with new tools to create healthy, innovative, naturalized playgrounds for all,” says Moore, a statement with which Cosco agrees. These studies reveal the benefits and added value of integrated play environments, which positively impact children’s development, physical activity levels, and health, as well as providing opportunities for programming, environmental sustainability, family interaction, and community involvement and awareness. The research, passion, experience, and technical expertise of the NLI team serves as the foundation for the NatureGrounds program.

The NatureGrounds program includes many resources that collectively support the development of naturalized playgrounds. The 48-page guidebook Creating & Retrofitting Play Environments: Best Practice Guidelines serves as an educational resource and training tool that highlights research-based design procedures for both parks and school grounds. The publication brings cost effective design solutions to communities to support the development of new play environments and the retrofit of existing play areas.

Additionally, provides a wealth of online information, including a searchable plant selection database, which includes a variety of trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses that are likely to thrive in specified regions and exhibit appropriate naturalization characteristics for playgrounds. This loaded database includes such variables as plant type, plant characteristics, culture characteristics, play value, and regional distribution. Other resources at include galleries of NatureGrounds Demonstration Sites that exemplify best practice principles and showcase leadership in nature play initiatives. PlayCore and NLI are currently seeking innovative participants across the country interested in implementing NatureGrounds best practice principles to serve as model demonstration sites. Additional information about NLI research, guiding principles of the program, and a venue for requesting more information are also available online.

“We believe innovative programs like NatureGrounds are critical for challenging and inspiring the future innovation of play environments across our nation. We hope that the tools we have provided in collaboration with NLI will serve as valuable resources for communities and that they will be catalysts for impacting the way children are able to play in nature at their community, school, and park playgrounds,” says Bob Farnsworth, CEO of PlayCore.

The implementation of best practice principles results from interdisciplinary collaboration among many partners, which may include licensed landscape architects, designers, park and recreation professionals, administrators, volunteers, community user groups, and others. PlayCore and its subsidiaries are equipped to help facilitate the design process and provide additional expertise through state-of-the-art computer aided design services and field representative support. NatureGrounds will succeed through the aligned energy of those on the front line working together to implement the NatureGrounds mission to shift the paradigm and create thousands of naturalized playgrounds across the nation.


Jennie Sumrell
Programs & Partnerships Coordinator

Register for the guidebook

PlayCore and the Natural Learning Initiative are pleased to announce the first-of-its-kind NatureGrounds® program, which enables children, families, and communities to experience the many benefits of playing in nature.