Nature-Inspired Playground Equipment
Natural Playgrounds vs. Nature-Inspired Playground Equipment
Childhood today looks starkly different from previous generations. Technology is dominating our kids’ lives, from TVs to tablets, and childhood obesity has become an epidemic. It’s more important than ever for our kids to spend time outdoors enjoying nature, and natural playgrounds can be an excellent avenue for achieving this goal. However, compared to traditional playgrounds, natural playgrounds can come with more safety risks, making many parents prefer the safety and familiarity of more standard public parks and playgrounds.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between a playground that immerses kids in nature and one that is engineered to promote safety and durability.
Nature-inspired playgrounds combine the wonder of the great outdoors with durable and safe play equipment. Best of all, kids get the physical activity they need while adventuring and learning about the complexities of the natural world that’s all around them. Miracle® Recreation wants to give little ones the opportunity to grow and play by providing playground equipment that is fun, safe and of the highest quality. Plus, many of our components include exciting nature-inspired design elements that give kids the thrill of exploring the great outdoors.
What Is a Natural Playground?
Natural playgrounds are outdoor recreation facilities comprised of elements from nature, making them feel integrated with the landscape. Rather than playground equipment made of metal or plastic materials, the play equipment on natural playgrounds is made from organic materials like wood, stones and sand. Natural playground designers may simply bring together unaltered items from nature, like logs and boulders, to create the playground or may also incorporate manufactured structures built from natural materials.
On a natural playground, kids may be able to hop along a series of tree stumps, climb up a rope ladder to a treehouse or splash their feet in a stream. Natural playgrounds also commonly feature moveable objects such as sand or pebbles that kids can use to interact with the environment. Manipulatives like these encourage kids to get creative on the playground.
Natural playgrounds have gained popularity throughout the world because, for many kids today, getting to enjoy the natural world can be a rare opportunity. You’re less likely to find natural playgrounds in the U.S., however, since they can come with some liability issues and safety concerns.
The safety features that tend to be built into commercial playground equipment aren’t built into natural playground components. For example, wooden structures can break or cause splinters — issues you can largely avoid with synthetic materials. Natural playgrounds may also lack features like safety surfacing that you’re likely to see on traditional playgrounds, making falls more likely to result in injuries.
Benefits of Natural Playgrounds
Natural playgrounds are popular in many communities because of the valuable benefits they can offer kids and families. On a natural playground, kids can enjoy play that is active, imaginative, social and sensory. Plus, they can learn about the natural world and even develop a passion for conservation.
1. Help Kids Get Physical Exercise
Physical activity is crucial for kids’ physical, mental and emotional health, and yet children today overwhelmingly do not get enough exercise. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 81% of adolescents globally do not get enough physical exercise. Young kids should be active throughout the day, and kids ages 6 and up should get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Getting the proper amount of physical activity can help kids maintain a healthy weight and improve many other aspects of their physical health.
Natural playgrounds can provide a place for kids to get the exercise they need to be healthy. Whether they’re climbing, crawling, skipping or swinging, they’ll be burning energy and building muscle strength and coordination. Natural playgrounds can feel more adventurous to kids, which can encourage them to stay active for longer and keep coming back for more physical activity.
2. Encourage Imaginative Free Play
Natural playgrounds are also great places for kids to enjoy self-led free play. American kids participate in less unstructured outdoor play than any other generation, spending just less than 10 minutes daily on average on this important form of play. Structured forms of play can still be helpful for getting physical exercise and learning how to follow rules. But when kids are given the freedom to direct play themselves, they can learn more independence, develop their creativity and enhance their self-confidence.
Some playground equipment may feel prescriptive compared to natural playground equipment, causing kids to simply use the equipment for its expressed purpose. With a natural playground, kids must instead get creative with how they interact with various components since it isn’t always obvious what activities the equipment is designed to facilitate. This open-ended design can also help kids engage their imaginations. The same stone cave could become a hiding spot for buried treasure, a campsite in the jungle or a dragon’s lair.
3. Promote Social Play
When kids engage in free play, they’re also likely to engage in another important type of play — social play. Independent play offers its own benefits, but there’s something special about playtime with other kids. On the playground, kids can learn how to function as part of a group. This includes communicating, problem-solving and empathizing with others — important social skills kids will take with them into adolescence and adulthood.
The flexibility of natural playgrounds encourages kids to work together to come up with games and pretend scenarios to make playtime extra fun. For instance, two kids may decide together to see the playground as an obstacle course and turn playtime into a fun competition. In doing so, they’re likely to work together to come up with their own rules and learn how to be a good sport. Or, a group of kids may decide they’re archeologists digging for dinosaur bones in the sandbox, allowing each kid to play a role in this fantasy.
4. Engage All the Senses
Another important type of play kids can enjoy on a natural playground is sensory play. Sensory play comes with important benefits, like helping kids develop more self-awareness and process their feelings. Time spent in nature can engage all the senses in ways that can be both calming and invigorating. Natural playgrounds tend to be sensory-rich environments that can make some commercial playgrounds feel sterile in comparison.
In a natural setting, kids can feel various textures like bumpy wood bark or smooth river rocks. They can smell the natural plants surrounding them and hear the babbling brook or water fountain. They can engage their vestibular system as they balance on a log or exercise their proprioception sense as they climb up a rock wall. And, of course, they can view the sights of the natural world — something research shows can reduce negative feelings like anxiety and increase positive emotions.
5. Instill a Passion for the Natural World
One benefit that sets natural playgrounds apart from other playgrounds is the way these spaces connect kids to the natural world. Kids today can feel disconnected from nature as they spend increasing amounts of time indoors, often planted in front of a screen. Getting kids to spend more time outdoors can do more than just boost their mood and improve their health. A 2017 study showed that children who play outside are more likely to care about protecting the environment when they grow up.
Parents and caregivers who want their kids to become responsible global citizens should make sure they get plenty of time to discover the natural world. This time spent outside can instill a life-long love of nature and maybe even inspire a future conservation activist.
How Can You Manage the Risks Associated With Natural Playgrounds?
With all the benefits natural playgrounds can offer, it’s worth considering how you can capitalize on these benefits while reducing safety risks. Fortunately, there are steps playground designers can take to make these playgrounds safer:
- Install safety surfacing: When a child falls on the playground, the type of surface they fall onto can make a big difference in whether they just get a slight bump or scrape or a more serious injury. Playground surfacing like poured-in-place rubber can make natural playgrounds seem less natural. Some natural forms of surfacing, like wood chips or sand, can help absorb the impact of a fall and keep kids safer.
- Inspect equipment regularly: Property managers or park staff can help keep natural playgrounds safe by regularly inspecting the playground. They should look for any dangerous items that shouldn’t be there, such as broken glass. Check for broken or weak spots on the equipment so they can close off access to that equipment before it causes a problem.
- Post playground safety rules: You can also reduce liability and promote safety by posting rules for how to safely use your natural playground. For example, you may note that parents or caregivers are required to supervise kids of certain ages and that children are not to run in the area. Rules like these can prevent risky behavior that could lead to safety issues.
- Opt for a nature-themed playground: One of the best ways you can mitigate the risks inherent in natural playgrounds is by creating a nature-inspired playground rather than a true natural playground. Nature-themed playgrounds still incorporate the sights, sounds and textures of nature but replicate the natural world with more traditional playground materials. Manufactured nature-inspired equipment should be designed to promote safety on the playground.
Why Utilize a Nature-Themed Playground
Nature-themed playgrounds embody a similar feel as natural playgrounds and can, therefore, offer many of the same benefits. However, these playgrounds are not the same as natural playgrounds. Rather than being comprised of real stumps, trees, boulders and other natural elements, nature-themed playgrounds feature synthetic versions of these objects.
The result is a nature-inspired park that strikes the perfect balance between safe, manufactured play equipment and nature. Kids come in contact with playground components that are inspired by natural colors and textures in the confines of a safe space designed to optimize their play experience.
The best nature-themed playgrounds will still feel adventurous to kids and even provide perceived risk while being designed with safety in mind. The thrill kids can feel on these playgrounds will motivate them to come back time and time again for more active experiences outside.
Keep in mind that not all nature-themed playgrounds look alike. You can customize your playground to focus on a particular theme or tailor it to a certain age group. Nature-themed playground equipment comes in all shapes and sizes so you can create the ideal setup for your community.
What a Nature-Themed Playground Entails
Whether it’s a public park or a playground at a school, kids enjoy nature-inspired playgrounds. After all, playing outside comes naturally to children. They love making up games as they climb over rocks or balance on tree stumps. At Miracle Recreation, we offer a variety of natural playground elements that make it easy to create a nature-themed playground.
There are a variety of options to choose from. Consider including the following pieces of equipment in your nature-themed playground:
- Web bridge made of rope for kids to cross
- Mushroom path steppers that bring the whimsy of the forest into the playground
- Realistic-looking stump to serve as a transition point between equipment
- In-ground freestanding rock wall kids can climb
- Hollowed out and solid logs for climbing and crawling fun
- Play rocks and boulders that can turn the playground into a mountainous or desert landscape
- Animal and insect-themed spring riders
These items and more available from Miracle blend the beauty and wonder of nature with the safety, durability and age appropriateness found in manufactured equipment. Each of the components is designed to look and feel as real as possible, providing an authenticity kids love, from rugged boulders to logs that feature a real bark-like texture. As kids maneuver through rope equipment, rocks and stumps, they build upper body and core strength, preparing them for further adventures beyond the playground.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach to nature-themed playgrounds versus traditional playgrounds. If you’re looking for ways to upgrade an existing playground, you can do that with nature-inspired equipment. Incorporate this equipment throughout the playground or dedicate a certain area, maybe even labeling it the nature zone or something similar.
Kids and parents alike will love seeing the beauty and the excitement of the natural world included in your playground. Even small upgrades can make a big difference and turn your playground into a more sensory-rich and engaging space for kids.
Miracle Recreation Components for Your Nature-Inspired Playground
Nature has always been a source of adventure and inspiration for both adults and kids. Studies even show that when children spend time outside enjoying nature, they experience endless physical, cognitive, creative, social and emotional benefits. Unfortunately, many parents don’t feel safe letting their kids roam the outdoors freely. So, how are we to reintroduce kids to the great outdoors? The answer is nature-themed playgrounds that immerse kids in the wonder of the great outdoors and safely encourage their sense of adventure.
If you’re looking to create a nature-inspired playground, Miracle Recreation has tons of ideas and equipment you can use to develop a unique design kids will love. Kids can climb on play rocks, balance on a faux log and even ride on the back of a frog or grasshopper.
If you’re ready to create your custom nature-themed playground design, contact Miracle Recreation today. A customer service representative would be happy to give personalized service and provide you with a quote for playground equipment inspired by the natural world around us.