Benefits of Play and Natural Playscapes

Below are resources providing arguments in favor of the importance of play, especially in natural playscapes. 

Importance of Play and Nature Website Links

Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play is a place to find information and resources to engage young children (ages 0-5) and their families in active play and meaningful movement.  Head Start Body Start also has a blog: an interactive website which allows users to post and share community events and projects that support a healthy lifestyle for children.

Let the Children Play is a blog about progressive early childhood education and topics related to unstructured, nature-inspired, child-driven play and its benefits.

Natural Learning Initiative provides information to help communities create stimulating places for play, learning, and environmental education with a collaboration from educators, play leaders, environmental educators, planners, politicians, and all professionals working for and with children.

Earthplay is an interactive site that allows users to blog information about natural playspaces, and also offers a page with resources including links to books, links to help you attain funds and grants, and links to playground safety information guides.

Education.com provides a page with useful information about Nature Defecit Disorder.  As opposed to being a medical condition, NDD describes the possible consequences which occur when children don’t spend enough time in nature.  The term was coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods

Visit the National Association for Sport and Physical Education‘s website to learn more about the importance of movement in childhood development and how to improve the quality of physical education programs for youth.

Research Articles

A Case for Natural Playscapes

“Spending time in nature is an important component of human health and development. For many, nature inspires curiosity, creativity and a sense of freedom. And playing in natural landscapes provides opportunities for motor development and sensory experiences not available in the classroom or even on traditional playgrounds.”  Natural playgrounds allow for more creativity than traditional playgrounds, because the children are able to manipulate their environment through the loose materials found in nature.  In one study, children who played on natural playgrounds scored higher on standardized motor skill tests than children who regularly played in traditional playgrounds.  Because nowadays it is more difficult for children to experience nature, a natural playscape is important because it provides “a sensory experience” that can “strongly impact physical and cognitive development.”

Assessing the Potential Play Value of Vegetation

Vegetation is important in a play environment, because it allows for activities such as climbing and dramatic play.  The value of the vegetation is dependent on its density and deliberate placement, and having such vegetation can connect children even more to nature.

Analyses of the Natural Environment as Play Ground

A rough and diverse landscape is perfect for improving a child’s motor fitness.  In one study, it was proven that children who played in natural playscapes showed considerable improvements in motor fitness than those who only played in traditional playgrounds.  Not only do natural playscapes improve the health and concentration of children, but the children prefer these playscapes to traditional playground equipment.

At Home with Nature: Effects of Greenness on Children

In studies examining a child’s living environment, it has been discovered that children who live in apartments are more likely to have respiratory illnesses and behavioral problems than those who live in houses.  S. Kaplan and R. Kaplan state that there are two different types of attention: voluntary and involuntary.  Voluntary attention takes effort and is tiring; involuntary is equivalent to fascination and naturally draws our attention, therefore letting our brain rest.  Many aspects of nature are successful in drawing involuntary attention.  In this study, researchers went to different houses and administered the ADDES (Attention Deficit Disorders Evaluation Scale) to the child in the house while an assistant evaluated the house based on how natural the views from the windows were.  The results show that children who lived in less natural environments had worse scores than others.

Visual Contact with Nature Impacts Health and Wellbeing

The less children are exposed to nature, the more susceptible they are to obesity, depression, and attention disorders.

Childhood Development and Access to Nature

It is concerning that children are spending less time with nature, not only because of the physical and psychological ramifications, but because of the worry that children may not be willing to take care of the environment in the future.  Research has shown that “regardless of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, early childhood experiences in nature significantly influence the development of lifelong environmental attitudes and values”.  Also, experiences in nature can improve the health of children, and as a recent study shows, can reduce a child’s ADHD symptoms more effectively than other activities.

Children’s Outdoor Play & Learning Environments

A natural playscape is a space that allows children to discover the world and how it works.  Through abundant loose materials, the children are able of using their imagination and creativity in order to foster innovativeness and independence.  Simon Nicholson wrote in 1971, “in any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibilities of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

Children’s Views on Involvement In Landscape

“Children should not be segregated into special ‘child’ spaces in the landscape…they are able to articulate understandings of landscape management issues and they can provide useful views on landscapes beyond the playground and school.”  It is shown that children are capable of understanding management and safety issues with regards to playspaces although they prefer secretive, unkempt areas of the landscape.

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