The adventure? The discovery? The imaginary characters? Playgrounds are made with kids in mind and for Earth Day 2013 we are focusing this month’s newsletter on the interactions of kids in their own nature. What better nature is there as a kid than the playground at school or around the corner in a neighborhood park?

While the 1990s and early 2000s heralded the age of the brightly-hued, manufactured playgrounds, there is now a movement to go back to the days of wooden towers in the sky and dirt children can actually dig in to. These modern playgrounds are a fusion of the traditional wooden playground structures with new elements that ingeniously engage park players with a range of biophilic elements. New companies, such as Play Scapes in Europe or Natural Playgrounds in the United States, are committed to establishing the concept of “nature play” playgrounds that include climbing trees, nature trails, water pools, undulating surfaces, and even decked out dig areas. While these play areas encourage greater physical interaction with a nature, they also instill in park visitors a sense of environmental stewardship.

Additionally, benefits of natural play places have been linked to a wealth of positive health effects. Studies in the past decade have shown that increased contact of children with nature and natural play areas can:

  • Increase advanced cognitive functioning and test scores in
    children,
  • Lessen the amount and severity of illness and respiratory difficulties,
  • Reduce anti-social behavior such as violence, vandalism, and social reclusion,
  • Encourage faster development of motor fitness and coordination,
  • Increase concentration in children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and
  • Support more diverse and imaginative play, increasing language and collaborative skills

Nature play areas are certainly making a splash in the playground industry with due cause. However, in meeting children in their own backyards and school yards with these nature-incorporating designs, it’s also important to remember opportunities for the adult-sized kid…because everyone deserves a playground.

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Image Credits: Natural Playgrounds, PlayScapes, PlayScapes

Mariah Gleason, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher 

Mariah is a masters degree candidate in Urban & Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.