11 Child Development Benefits of Nature Play

Integrating manufactured play equipment with natural components directly addresses health promotion by extending the range of options for children's social, physical, and cognitive behaviors. Evidence of the health effects of outdoor play redefines naturalized playgrounds as preventive health assets that support active lifestyles in children, helping them avoid the negative health consequences of sedentary behavior. Additional benefits of playground naturalization include the following:

  1. 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.
  2. Children in nature are engaged in more creative and cooperative play.
  3. Naturalization provides broader inclusion of children of various abilities and increases social interaction between children with different socioeconomic and ethnic/racial backgrounds.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Naturalized playgrounds are aligned with education philosophies that consider the outdoor environment as an educational resources supporting child development as a holistic psychological, social, and cognitive process. Naturalization provides hands-on experiences and opportunities to bring classroom learning outdoors.
  7. Gains in student competence, social studies, science, language arts, and math occur for children attending schools with outdoor classrooms.
  8. Heightened sensory stimulation, exploration, and discovery of natural objects and phenomena stimulate active learning, creativity, and imagination.
  9. Environmental educators see nature play as a key strategy for engaging children in urban communities 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.
  10. Changing seasons and daily natural environment dynamics contribute to novel play experiences for children.
  11. Deeper emotional attachment to nature and increased understanding of the natural world by children can increase long-term environmental stewardship as adults.

In summary, 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.

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