Natural Playgrounds Inspire Qualitative Play


If you are going to play outside, shouldn’t it look like you are playing outside? That is the conversation behind the design of new playgrounds which mimic natural features and color schemes, including materials that look like wood logs, rocks, and other nature inspired designs.

When it comes to building a playground, there are a variety of themes that are popular, especially contemporary colors or space-age looking designs. But one of the trending themes is a return to natural playgrounds, with elements that feel relaxing and appear tree-like while offering the safety and durability of modern, commercial grade materials.

The University of Tennessee (Knoxville) Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sports Studies published a study that evaluated physical learning patterns in children, and compared results from children who played on the more traditional playgrounds (metal and primary colored equipment) to those who played on playgrounds that incorporated natural elements like wood, logs, and tree and floral landscaping.

The study was observed at the University of Tennessee’s Early Learning Center with the children on the playground at the daycare facility on campus. The playground was traditionally built with primarily plastic equipment and some wood elements. The activity of the children was recorded in summer of 2011, observing how long they played, the exertion of their chosen activities, and how often they took rest and comfort from UV exposure in shaded areas.

The playground was then renovated with more natural elements. Slides were constructed utilizing natural hills, trees were planted, landscaping rocks, flowers, and a gazebo were added, as well as logs and tree stumps, to create a “natural playscape” for children in the Early Learning Center. The result was that children played longer and played harder. They engaged in more aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise while on the playground that offered more natural outdoor elements.

The recommendation of the University of Tennessee study was that commercial parks and playground equipment should incorporate more natural elements in order to inspire more qualitative play for children. Simple playgrounds that don’t utilize added landscaping actually reduce both the length of time children will play and the fitness value of their activities, causing children to feel less comfortable and free to explore their creativity.

By adding natural elements like trees for comfortable shade, bushes and shrubs to break the monotony of the play space, and flowers to provide aesthetic appearance and color, children get far more benefit and enjoyment from a playground.

American Parks Company offers a selection of nature inspired play structures and independent play activities to help you create a nature themed playground. From recycled wood-like playgrounds such as the Legend play structure, to the Climb and Discover Cave, and even the Embankment Slide that can be installed into a natural inclined grassy hill.

Call our playground experts 1-800-381-4491 for advice designing a comfortable, natural environmental theme for your park or playground.