Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to Create a Natural Outdoor Play Space. Part 1

Are you looking for simple, low cost ways to create a natural outdoor play space for young children?  

No matter the size of your space - or your budget - you can create natural spaces of wonder and adventure that engage the senses, spark the imagination and invite children to explore and discover.

Over the next 9 posts, "How to Create a Natural Outdoor Play Space" will look at easily sourced natural materials that can transform a backyard or playground into a place where where childhood memories and valuable connections to the natural world are made.

Why go Natural?

Quite simply, children prefer it.

It is unfortunate that children can't design their outdoor play environments. Research on children's preferences shows that if children had the design skills to do so, their creations would be completely different from the areas called playgrounds that most adults design for them.  - White and Stoecklin

The old rickety bridge over a dirt patch at preschool
When given the opportunity, children choose to play in natural environments, and with natural materials.  This is not so surprising when you consider the overwhelming play potential of natural spaces filled with - naturally - delightfully open-ended natural materials.

What Natural Elements do I include?    

According to White and Stoeklin:

Outdoor spaces designed by children would not only be fully naturalized with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals and insects, but also would be rich with a wide variety of play opportunities of every imaginable type. 
You can't go wrong if you include any combination of the following wonderfully open-ended natural materials in your play space:

1.  Water

2.  Vegetation

3.  Animals, insects, creatures in ponds

3. Sand (especially when mixed with water)

4.  Natural colour, diversity and change   

5.  Places and features to sit on; in; under; lean against; provide privacy; shade; shelter

6.  Different levels, nooks, crannies, places to hide

Credit:  Busy Bee Day Care

7. Structures or objects that can be changed, including lots of loose parts 

Did you know that the humble stick is in the Toy Hall of Fame?

Over the next series of posts, we will look at each of these elements in more detail.

Tomorrow:  Just add water!

Series: How to create a natural outdoor playspace for children.  Come with me and wander and dream through natural play spaces from around the globe.  We will take our time and look at each of these natural elements in a bit more detail.   We may just well find a few ideas that we can use in our own playgrounds or backyards to make them irresistible spaces for outdoor play:

Just Add Water
Just Add Sand
Just Add Greenery
Just Add Animals, Insects and Creatures
Just Add Stones, Logs, Stumps and Mounds
Just Add Places to Pause, Places to Hide, Places to Rest
Just Add Loose Parts
Natural Play Space Round-up


  1. Looking forward to these posts as we are trying to re-design our current play-yard at work!

  2. genius genius genius!
    Thanks so much - I can't wait for the rest of this series!!

  3. This is great! I too can not wait to see the rest of this series!

  4. I'm definitely interested ... our backyard could you some help in this department. Great idea for a series!

  5. Thanks Jenny. As we've mentioned already we are into faze two of our Hush Garden make over so it's perfect timing that you have posted this article today and we really are looking forward to following the series through. In fact Jenny as we are influenced by so much you post on your site we have nominated you today to receive our "Honest Scrap' award. You have had a major impact on the both of us in the very short time we have been blogging and this is one way we thought we could publicly say THANK YOU!

    So ... Thank you for making a difference Jenny! :) :)

  6. Thank you for your lovely comments. As you may know we are also looking at making changes / additions to our outdoor area at preschool so these are all the tips I have been gathering along the way. No point keeping them all to myself!

  7. I've had a bunch of evening meetings lately Jenny and have fallen behind in by blog reading. I'm so excited to get to read your entire series all in one go! I've already learned so much from you -- I can't wait to learn more.

  8. O wow! ... i just got bounced here from Teacher Tom, who I just found a couple of days ago via. Filth Wizardry blog. A-mazing - I haven't been so inspired for a while. AND I'm just in the middle of organising a busy bee to spruce up the playground in the Housing Co-op I live at... Couldn't have found your blog at a better time!! I'll have to post the before and after photos. I'll be back.

  9. toasted: I'm happy you wandered over! I love Teacher Tom and Filth Wizardry too. Good luck with sprucing up your playground - I would love to see photos. As you can probably tell, I'm a bit of a playground nut.

  10. Jenny - I'd like to link to your playground series on my blog. i haven't done this kind of thing before so I'm not sure of the etiquette. Would it be okay with you?

  11. Toasted: absolutely - link away! What is your blog, I'd love to have a look.

  12. You're linked. At http://toasted-toasted.blogspot.com/

  13. hi folk,
    I love this site, so inspirational. I have just ordered Rusty's book but wondered if anyone has any ideas to help me with my preschool outdoor play space I've inherited a rubber 'soft form' yard I have already added lots of loose parts and I am trying to get grants to put 'tan bark' down.
    Bikes are very popular at the centre.but the yard is small and I am struggling to fit bikes into my design. was wondering if anyone had any good ideas about bike tracks. Thanks Katy

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  17. This is great, When children play and learn in nature, they do so with more vigor, engagement, imagination and cooperation than in wholly artificial environments and that symptoms of attention deficit and depression are reduced.

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