Why Are Natural Playgrounds Better Than Other Playgrounds?

The benefits of natural playgrounds, shown to positively impact children's health and performance, are many. However, it comes as no surprise that these benefits extend beyond the physical. Natural playgrounds inspire curiosity, creativity, imagination and particularly a sense of wonder—what we commonly call "play."

As a parent, you want to provide the best for your children. You want them to have opportunities to learn and grow, and you want them to be safe while they do so. That’s why more and more parents are choosing natural playgrounds for their kids over traditional playgrounds. Typically, natural playgrounds offer a variety of benefits over traditional playgrounds while preserving the environment.

So, why are natural playgrounds better? The truth is that natural playgrounds are safer, inclusive, and foster social interactions between kids. They are better for the environment. Encourage creativity, foster love for nature among kids, encourage active play, and are generally a great investment compared to traditional playgrounds. They are also innovative, exciting, and highly educational.

This blog post highlights some of the top benefits of natural playgrounds that makes them a more attractive option than traditional playgrounds. Read on to learn more.

Understanding the Concept of Nature Play

Many child development experts worldwide are advocating for a return to nature-based play. The theory is that children can reap a host of benefits by playing in more natural environments.

Natural playgrounds are built using materials found in nature, such as logs, rocks, and sand. They often feature elements like water features, gardens, and trees. And they’re designed to encourage kids to explore, use their imaginations, and get dirty.

In contrast, traditional playgrounds are built using artificial materials like plastic and metal. They often feature slides, swings, and other “play” equipment. And they’re designed for structure and safety.

A boy playing on a wet sand.
They’re designed to encourage kids to explore, use their imaginations, and get dirty.

So, with increased nature play, kids get to experience more unstructured play. And that can have some pretty incredible benefits.

What Is a Natural Playground?

Before we jump into the benefits of natural playgrounds, it’s important to understand what they are. A natural playground is a playground that uses naturally-occurring materials like trees, logs, rocks, and sand instead of artificial materials like plastic and metal.

Natural playgrounds often look like a park or forest rather than a traditional playground with slides and swings. This is because natural playgrounds are designed to encourage kids to explore and use their imaginations rather than play on pre-determined structures.

Some of the key elements of natural playgrounds include:

  • Trees, logs, and other plant life
  • Boulders and rocks
  • Sand and dirt
  • Water features

Natural playgrounds can also include structures like wooden climbing walls and bridges, but these are typically made from sustainable materials that will eventually decompose.

Benefits of Natural Playgrounds

Many benefits come along with using a natural playground. Here are some of the top reasons parents are choosing natural playgrounds over traditional playgrounds:

1. Natural Playgrounds Promote Physical Activity

Kids love to run, jump, and play, and natural playgrounds give them the chance to do just that. With features like hills, climbers, and sandboxes, natural playgrounds encourage kids to move their bodies and stay active.

In contrast, traditional playgrounds often feature equipment that doesn’t require much physical activity.

A children running and having fun.
Kids love to run, jump, and play, and natural playgrounds give them the chance to do just that.

For example, swings and seesaws don’t get kids moving around that much. And even when they do, it’s not the type of free-flowing movement that natural playgrounds provide.

2. Natural Playgrounds Encourage Creativity and Imagination

Natural playgrounds provide the perfect setting for kids to use their imaginations. When kids are given the opportunity to explore and play in more open-ended environments, they can be more creative.

For example, a tree stump can be a seat, a table, or a drum. A pile of rocks can be a mountain to climb or a fort to build. And a sandbox can be a pirate ship or a castle.

In contrast, traditional playgrounds often feature equipment that doesn’t encourage much imagination. For instance, slides are just for sliding down, and swings are just for swinging back and forth.

3. Natural Playgrounds Foster a Love of Nature

Natural playgrounds help kids develop a love and appreciation for nature. When kids are exposed to nature at an early age, they’re more likely to want to protect it as they get older.

And that’s important because the health of our planet depends on it.

With the growing need to preserve our natural environment to combat the negative effects of climate change, there is a need now more than ever to instill a love of nature in our children.

4. Natural Playgrounds Promote Social and Emotional Development

Natural playgrounds provide the perfect opportunity for kids to interact with each other and develop social and emotional skills.

When kids are playing together in an unstructured environment, they’re forced to communicate and cooperate with each other.

This type of play also allows kids to develop a sense of independence and autonomy. They’re able to explore and experiment without the constant supervision of adults.

5. Natural Playgrounds Are Safer

Despite the common perception that natural playgrounds are more dangerous than traditional playgrounds, studies have shown that they’re much safer.

This is because natural playgrounds are typically designed with safety in mind. For example, features like mulch and sand provide a soft surface for kids to fall on, while boulders and logs can be used to create barriers between play areas and busy streets.

Kids running on the old tires.
Natural playgrounds are typically designed with safety in mind.

In contrast, some traditional playgrounds often feature hard surfaces like concrete and metal. And while these materials may be durable, they don’t do much to cushion a fall.

6. Natural Playgrounds Are More Inclusive

Natural playgrounds are more inclusive than traditional playgrounds because they are designed for kids of all abilities.

For instance, features like ramps and wheelchair-accessible swings make it possible for kids with disabilities to play alongside their peers.

And because natural playgrounds encourage free and open-ended play, they’re also ideal for kids who don’t necessarily fit into the traditional mold of what a “playground kid” is supposed to be.

7. Natural Playgrounds Are Better for the Environment

Natural playgrounds are better for the environment in several ways.

First, they’re typically made from sustainable materials that will decompose over time. Second, they don’t require the use of harmful chemicals or pesticides to maintain them. And third, they provide a habitat for local wildlife.

In contrast, traditional playgrounds are often made from plastic and metal that can take centuries to decompose. They also require the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides to keep them clean and safe.

8. Natural Playgrounds Foster a Social Environment

Since nature-inspired natural playgrounds encourage outdoor play, they also help foster a sense of community. When kids play together outside, it’s easier for parents and caregivers to strike up conversations with other adults.

Boys having fun.
This helps foster a sense of community among themselves and between the children and their caregivers.

And that can lead to lasting relationships and a strong sense of community. In contrast, some traditional playgrounds often feel more isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world.

Children in a natural playground must work together to figure out how to use the space and the equipment. This helps foster a sense of community among themselves and between the children and their caregivers.

9. Natural Playgrounds Encourage Active Play

Natural playgrounds encourage active play, which is important for kids’ physical and mental health. When kids are active, they’re not only burning calories and getting exercise, but they’re also improving their coordination and fine motor skills.

Since natural playgrounds often feature a variety of activities, kids are more likely to find something that they enjoy and stick with it.

In contrast, some traditional playgrounds only offer a limited number of activities, leading to boredom and inactivity.

10. Natural Playgrounds Help Kids Unplug from Technology

In today’s world, it’s easy for kids to get caught up in the digital world. But when they’re playing in a natural playground, they’re encouraged to unplug from technology and explore the physical world around them.

This is important because it helps kids develop a sense of curiosity and wonder. It also allows them to connect with nature, which can have a calming and soothing effect.

11. Natural Playgrounds Are Innovative, Exciting, and Educational

The truth is that many elements can be included in a natural playground that are also found in a traditional playground. However, how these elements are used makes natural playgrounds so innovative, exciting, and educational.

For example, rather than using a seesaw in the traditional way, a natural playground might use it as part of a water play area. This not only encourages active play, but also teaches kids about the science of how water moves.

Including a variety of natural elements in a playground helps create an environment that is both stimulating and educational. It’s the perfect way to encourage kids to explore, play, and learn.

12. Natural Playgrounds Are a Great Investment

When you compare the cost of a natural playground to the cost of a traditional playground, it’s clear that natural playgrounds are a great investment.

Not only are they better for the environment, but they’re also better for kids.

They encourage active play, foster a sense of community, and help kids unplug from technology. They’re also innovative, exciting, and educational.

All of these factors make natural playgrounds a wise investment for any community.

A boy and girl climbing.
They encourage active play, foster a sense of community, and help kids unplug from technology.

Wrapping It Up

While there are many reasons to love natural playgrounds, the fact that they promote physical activity may be one of the most important.

A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and what better way to encourage kids to get active than by giving them a fun and stimulating playground?

Natural playgrounds help children learn about their environment while getting exercise, which is why they continue to gain popularity worldwide.

Have you had a chance to visit a natural playground lately? If not, we highly recommend adding one to your list of places to visit soon.

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