From infancy through early childhood, outdoor play is crucial for a child’s emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development. The early years are generally for exploration and discovery, and children need to spend as much time as possible outdoors. However, in today’s increasingly urbanized world, the lives of our young ones are more structured and scheduled than ever before, denying them the opportunity to explore and discover their surroundings. One of the best ways of encouraging active outdoor play is through natural playgrounds.
So, why are natural playgrounds important in early childhood? Natural playgrounds provide greater opportunities for kids to engage in active play, explore the environment, and improve their physical fitness. They also stimulate their imagination and creativity, help develop motor skills, improve their social skills, and provide an opportunity for nature study. With natural playgrounds, it is not just about fun. They play a crucial part of a child’s development and encourage kids to showcase their strengths and weaknesses without fear of being confronted by their parents or caregivers.
In this post, we discuss some of the greatest benefits of natural playgrounds and how they aid a child’s development. But first, let us start by discussing the crucial elements of a natural playground.
What Is a Natural Playground?
A natural playground usually contains elements that are part of nature or are manufactured from natural materials such as logs, grass, water, sand, stones, shrubs, trees, wood chip trails, and wooden tree houses.
The primary objective is to ensure that you mimic the natural environment as much as possible to create a beautiful and exciting playground that is safe and fun.
A good natural playground features many movable objects that kids can easily manipulate and use to construct other objects. Examples of the movable objects include pebbles, fallen branches and leaves, twigs, sand, water, and rocks.
Prefabricated objects such as strings, buckets, bits of plastic piping, and spades should also be provided to the kids to aid their creativity. The goal is to provide the kids with the necessary tools they need to express their imagination and creativity.
At natural playgrounds, children are encouraged to run, crawl, climb up and down hills, stomp through puddles and participate in all types of games. Kids of different ages and abilities can interact and learn together to develop their collaborative play and problem-solving skills.
Benefits of Natural Playgrounds for Child Development
As mentioned earlier, natural playgrounds are specifically designed to make use of natural elements to create a safe play area for children. Creating natural playgrounds is on the rise in different parts of the world, and it is for a good reason.
Here are some of the top benefits of a natural playground:
1. Improves physical fitness
Natural playgrounds have a wide range of landscape features and objects that can help your young ones develop physical fitness and strength. The objects also aid in the development of balance and coordination skills.
Children usually get plenty of exercises as they run along the trails, jump over or from objects, and roll over the grass. Their bodies are also stimulated as they roll down hills, climb over logs, boulders, tree stumps, and other items.
However, to achieve physical fitness benefits from natural playgrounds, you must ensure plenty of space. Natural playgrounds with too many structures crowded in one place may not provide the kids with the best chance to explore and have maximum fun.
Children need plenty of room to run, play, walk, roll, and do all sorts of things. They need to feel free and get messy in the playground.
2. Construction skills
Natural playgrounds usually incorporate movable objects such as pebbles, rocks, logs, and sand. These objects are complemented with spades, string/fabric, and buckets, which can be used by children to learn construction skills.
Playing in a natural playground encourages imagination and creativity through interaction with different elements. Kids can engage in a wide range of construction tasks such as creating dams in water channels and digging channels in the sand, which provides satisfaction to them.
Children who employ construction skills in natural playgrounds tend to work cooperatively with others and develop good problem-solving skills when they grow up.
3. Teaches children how to protect and conserve the environment
Caring for the environment is critical to the wellbeing of humans. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Today, a lot of people engage in dangerous activities that cause extensive damage to our environment resulting in huge problems such as global warming.
Therefore, teaching the next generation the importance of preserving the environment and how to do it right is paramount. If they are engaged in learning about the environment from a relatively young age, it will stick with them as they grow.
Understanding the reasons for recycling materials where possible, creating spaces that help natural habitats flourish, and understanding how nature helps human beings will help them understand the need to conserve nature.
Appreciating its beauty and promoting a genuine interest in nature from early childhood means that modern children will grow into a responsible generation of adults who respect and care for the environment.
4. Aid in the development of motor skills
One of the most significant benefits of natural playgrounds is found in the unique way they help kids improve their motor skills. Typically, a natural setting features a wide range of sensory-stimulating activities, textures, gardens, and natural sounds that encourage children to engage all of their senses.
Through touching, feeling, smelling, seeing, and collecting natural objects, the fine motor activity is challenged and strongly strengthened. Children require different challenges to develop motor skills and understand what to do in different circumstances.
5. Social development and cooperation
Outdoor play in a natural environment also stimulates social development far better than indoor playgrounds. Typically, the size and variety of equipment provided in outdoor natural playgrounds are far much better than what you will find in artificial playgrounds.
The wide range of equipment and objects encourage more socio-dramatic play themes since children are encouraged to tackle large objects in groups. These interactions help kids to develop socially and form new friendships with their team members.
They start to understand the beauty of working together at an early stage and will grow up knowing the value of true friendship and teamwork.
Furthermore, natural playgrounds encourage cooperation other than competitions. They create equal play opportunities and encourage kids to work creatively to either confront problems or construct solutions. These are the kind of skills you need your little one to learn as they grow up.
6. Promotes interactive play
Natural playgrounds also provide incredible opportunities for kids to engage in interactive play. Keep in mind that as the environment is constantly changing, there is a need to promote more interactive play among children.
Interactive play means fewer restrictions and more freedom to run around and explore things. With this kind of play, children really enjoy themselves and learn a lot of things.
The static equipment found in traditional playgrounds can only be used in specific ways. Therefore, children play can end up being repetitive and boring. However, natural playgrounds have different types of objects that can be transformed into almost everything.
Kids can manipulate the objects in their own ways to come up with different things at different times. The flexibility offers them room to explore, imagine, and create almost everything they want.
In fact, these playgrounds are created to stimulate creativity and imagination. Its features are meant to promote creativity through sensory stimulation.
Children who spend most of their time playing at natural playgrounds tend to be more diverse and creative in different ways. They also show improvement in areas of language skills and collaboration.
7. Teach children how to confront risk
Lastly, natural playgrounds also teach children how to confront risk. Even though safety is a key element of every playground, children must also learn how to confront risk in their lives.
Natural playgrounds present good elements of risk that children must learn how to handle even as they play.
They must learn how to be careful when jumping, climbing, or rolling. They must also learn how to be observant and how to use reasonable force when engaged in the push and pull games.
However, the playground management must balance that risk with safety measures such as providing soft landing pages to avert injuries.
Natural playgrounds are exciting, innovative, and educational. They offer many benefits to kids compared to the traditional playgrounds. Although most of them feature basic natural elements, they can be modified to include so many elements depending on one’s needs and preferences.
Some of the critical elements that can be included in a natural playground to make it more exciting include hillsides, water features, boulders, trees, outdoor musical instruments, and natural plants. The primary objective is to ensure that the play area encourages imagination and creativity.
With the right objects in place, a natural playground is a magical place for both children and their parents. We hope you enjoyed reading this post, and you now understand why you need to adapt to the idea of natural playgrounds.