Why naturalized playgrounds?
Inspired by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, a grassroots movement advocating outdoor play in nature is growing across the USA and Canada, driven by parents, environmental educators, recreation and health promotion professionals, naturalists, and others. Naturalized playgrounds can support the outdoor play in nature movement in several ways:
• Play structures are heavily used by children, as demonstrated by NLI behavior mapping studiesof actual use of school grounds and community parks designed to high standards of best practice.
• National, state, county, and municipal “children and nature” and “active childhood” community initiatives and legislation are focusing attention on the spaces of children’s daily lives, including playgrounds.
• Innovative projects that promote nature play generate positive press and new funding streams to help implement naturalization initiatives.
• “Mixed” play environments of equipment and natural components are more attractive and comfortable for adults. As a result, caregivers may spend more time outdoors with their children.
• Well-designed playgrounds are a primary attraction for families using neighborhood and community parks. Naturalization adds visual interest, shade, and comfort — resulting in sustained repeat visits, a relaxed and playful social atmosphere, and growth of community social capital.
• Users of all abilities discover a wider range of play opportunities in naturalized playgrounds. These inclusive, universally designed environments attract multicultural families with members of all ages.
• Curvy pathways weaving around and connecting equipment and natural components provide attractive, accessible, active settings for children, and social strolling by adults.
• Naturalization provides new opportunities for nature-based professionals such as naturalists, environmental educators/programmers, artists, playworkers, animators — and volunteers — to offer rich outdoor education and recreation programs for a wide range of children.
Play value of naturalization
Play value recognizes that different types of play environments stimulate different forms and amounts of play.
• Plants increase the diversity of social, construction, symbolic, dramatic, and physical play and related learning opportunities by encouraging children to explore and discover the wonder of the world around them.
• Plants improve natural habitat conditions for wildlife species that fascinate children such as butterflies, caterpillars, ladybird beetles, and salamanders.
• Selected plants can attract songbirds to add sensory appeal to the playground.
• Plants offer sensory stimulation by providing sounds, textures, tactile interaction, fragrance, and visual interest.
• Trees, shrubs, and flowering perennials increase playground aesthetic appeal, which stimulates higher levels of use, a greater variety of play behavior, increased social interaction, and diverse habitat for wildlife.
• Plants respond to seasonal change and add novelty and visual interest, which makes playgrounds more attractive and interesting to children and adult caregivers. This means adults are more likely to take children to naturalized playgrounds, spend more time there, and return for repeat visits.
• Increased play value is a primary measure of community benefit for public funds invested in naturalized playgrounds.