The benefits of nature-inspired playground spaces

Playground spaces are vital for children to learn through play. Nature-inspired playgrounds are one type of playground design that has grown in recent years due to their benefits for supporting children’s learning and development.

What are nature-inspired playground spaces?

A wooden playground feature

Nature-inspired playground spaces are those that closely mimic nature. Nature play is gaining popularity because it allows children to exercise their innate curiosity and discover the wonders of nature.  

This style of playground space doesn’t necessarily have to be in a natural setting. For example, a school playground in an urban area can still create a nature-inspired playground space. While nature can be incorporated, the focus is more on achieving a natural play experiences as possible.

Given the limited access to nature in buildings and urban environments, these playground spaces are hugely popular. Nature-inspired playgrounds benefit from using natural and organic materials. These materials include trees, sand and water features, bark, stone, and rocks.

Existing natural features, such as tree stumps or hills, can be turned into fun and interactive natural playground pieces. A nature-inspired playground space is a sensory wonderland for children.

The different natural smells, textures, and sounds they encounter enhance their understanding of nature and foster a deeper appreciation. Any purpose-built elements should use natural materials where possible.

If this is not possible, they should carefully resemble their organic counterparts to maintain the desired sensory experience. Some examples of nature-inspired playground equipment include:

  • Tree stumps
  • Treehouses
  • Rope bridges and climbing equipment
  • Streams and water features
  • Hollow logs or tunnels in small hills

Nature-inspired playgrounds go beyond the typical park, ditching the sterile feel for the thrill of adventure. They combine the best of both worlds, fostering a love for the outdoors while offering exciting play features.

Discover more about the need for play and its importance in development

What are the benefits of nature-inspired playground spaces?

A nature inspired playground

Opting for a nature-inspired playground space has many benefits for children. Not only does it help grow their appreciation and understanding of nature, but it also helps to spark their imagination and creativity. Here are some of the benefits of nature-inspired playground spaces:

Encourages active play

One benefit of nature-inspired playground spaces is that they encourage more active play. Research by the University of Tennessee found that incorporating natural elements into a playground encourages children to be more active.

The same study also found that children’s imaginations improve when they play on nature-inspired playgrounds. The research explored playground usage, activity intensity, and time spent in the playground.

The observation found that children’s time spent playing in a nature-inspired playground more than doubled. Children also engaged in more aerobic and physical-strengthening activities, and motor skills improved through using nature-inspired playgrounds.

Develops cognitive & social skills

Children playing on a seesaw

Another benefit of nature-inspired playgrounds is that they encourage both cognitive and social skills among children. Nature-inspired playgrounds provide an open and inclusive environment encouraging children to interact with each other while immersing themselves in nature play experience thus, boosting their understanding on natural elements whilst building camaraderie with their peers. Whether it’s a climbing fort, water features, or trim trails, they are more open to collaboration.

Natural and aesthetically pleasing

Another benefit of nature-inspired playgrounds is their natural and aesthetically pleasing design. Playground designers are embracing nature play, too with traditional playgrounds making way for play spaces that use Mother Nature as their muse.  Such nature-inspired designs offer a rustic and natural aesthetic.

Schools and community parks are now prioritising the use of eco-friendly materials and finishes, opting for elements that mimic the textures and colors found in nature. From wooden structures to natural stone pathways, these playgrounds offer a sensory experience that resonates with children and adults alike.

As a result, everyone can benefit from an appealing and harmonious playground space that connects with the surrounding landscape.

More imaginative play

Children playing in a nature inspired playground

Nature play helps nurture children’s imagination and cognitive skills. Natural settings offer boundless opportunities for imaginative exploration and adventures. Think of climbing a timber tower for tree-top view, riding an animal rocker and hopping on steppingstones and activity trails that lead to a water play area.

Backed by research, spending time in natural environments has been linked to improvements in attention and working memory, critical components of learning. The dynamic and multisensory nature play spaces captivates children’s attention and engages their senses, promoting awareness and connection to their environment.

Better physical and mental health benefits

Another advantage is the improved health benefits children can gain from nature-inspired playgrounds. Spending time in natural environments has been proven to have various health benefits for children, and this can also apply to nature-inspired playgrounds.

The immersive experiences in nature-inspired playgrounds spark not just physical activity but also cognitive and emotional growth. Recent studies show that it helps counteracts the negative effects of screen time in young children. By prioritising natural play, we’re nurturing happy, well-rounded children with a strong foundation for mental health.

Stronger connection to nature

A wooden playground feature in a nature inspired playground

One of the more apparent benefits of nature-inspired playground spaces is that children develop a stronger appreciation and connectivity to nature.

A nature-inspired playground provides powerful tools for connecting kids with the natural world. By incorporating climbing logs, sand pits, and water features – each element fuels a sense of discovery and wonder.

Children also can discover more about the world around them. By stimulating all the senses, these playgrounds become immersive classrooms. Kids aren’t just learning about nature, they’re experiencing it too.

Nature-inspired playground spaces continue to grow in popularity to encourage free play and boost development. The learning and development benefits they provide for children make them an ideal solution for supporting learning success.

All images from Playground Centre