Saturday, January 23, 2010

why natural outdoor playscapes?

As early childhood teachers, how would we justify wanting to create a a natural playscape?

"The Outdoor Playspace Naturally" edited by Sue Elliott puts forward these pretty convincing arguments:

Opportunity and Potential
Natural playscapes are places of exploration, discovery and learning.  Every day there are new discoveries to be made.  With the support of sensitive teachers, these discoveries can become rich learning opportunities.

Sustained and Complex Play
Did you know that vegetative rooms, bushy cubbies, dens or enclosed spaces have been shown to promote more sustained, complex and creative play than purpose built or adult built cubbies? 

A bushy cubby at preschool
Physical Health
We all know of the physical benefits offerred by outdoor play.  But did you know that there are subtle advantages to more natural spaces? 

tree cookies as loose materials in our preschool playscape

Natural playscapes may include moveable climbing pieces, but they are not dominated by large scale fixed equipment that looses appeal and challenge over time.  Natural playscapes are more readily manipulated and changed by children, and the variety of terrain and ground surfaces challenge physical skills.

4.  Mental Health
Now this is really something - studies have shown enhancement and improvement in mental health: sense of facination and curiosity; higher attention levels; greater self discipline; sense of place and sense of identity in natural playscapes.

5.  Connecting with Nature
Early childhood is a unique and critial time for connecting with nature. Sadly, in today's society children are spending less time outdoors than ever before.  Natural playscapes are a way to reconnect our young children with their natural world.

6.  Sustainability
If we provide synthetic outdoor playspaces and place more importance on indoor play, what will children grow up knowing and feeling?  As educators we need to help young children build a relationship with their natural environment so that they are invested in it's future.

 What do you think?


  1. Again, you keep showing me how deep and rich this topic is. I'm really excited to see what we can do with our little urban environment. What we lack in space and nature, I hoping we can make up for with enthusiasm and creativity.

  2. I certainly agree. I grew up in nature, I remember building forts and fairy houses, and playing for hours in the garden. I believe that those times spent in nature, from making mud pies to riding my horse out all day made me more creative and better able to cope with life. While I have learning difficulties I still managed to do well in both College and life. I am now a dedicated teacher who believes, like you, that children should be outside in a natural environment more often.
    Very well stated.

  3. I fully agree, the hours spent playing outdoors with my best friend, in her garden, in the woods, at the river, or out on my pony, made me better able to cope with life in a creative and positive way. I still gain so much from being in nature. I gravitate to natural wild parks and playgrounds.
    Very well stated.