10 Ways Natural Playgrounds Help Benefit Children’s Development

Playgrounds aren't just about fun, they are a key part of children's development. From confronting danger with climbing structures to social skills garnered by interaction in a play environment, playing outside also helps children grow.

Built using wood, stone, sand and water, natural playgrounds and adventure playgrounds are a growing trend thanks to their sustainability and their suitability in a wide variety of landscapes. Put simply, they blend more seamlessly into different environments – from National Trust parks to schoolyards. And the natural elements of play also benefit children's development.

Here's how:

10. Versatility
Playground design that uses fixed, unnatural equipment limits development. There is a finite number of ways for children to play creatively. When children become bored, accidents are more likely to occur and as such, providing versatility in play is key.

9. Visual preference
In a study, it was revealed that children actively prefer playground installations that utilised natural materials and forms and I think that's true for us parents too. This helps engender imagination and encourages children to interact with the playground. Installing natural play elements was also found to improve children's spatial cognitive awareness, socialisation and fantasy play skills. (Herrington & Studmann, 1998).

The environmental aspect can't be ignored either – with natural playgrounds providing a less jarring fit to play areas in national parks or other scenic areas, and they look so much nicer too.

8. Construction skills
Natural playgrounds generally incorporate movable objects such as sand, logs, pebbles and rocks, and when complemented with buckets, spades, string or fabric, they can be used by children to learn construction skills. It encourages creativity through the interaction of these elements. These construction projects, such as digging channels in sand or creating dams in water channels with pebbles, provides satisfaction, and fun for children. 

Research has also revealed that children using construction skills in natural playgrounds are found to work cooperatively, which helps them problem solve and think creatively. A further study by Hestenes, Shin & DeBord (2007) found that in playgrounds that used natural elements, children were far more likely to use constructive play over functional play. 

7. Improved physical fitness
While this is also true of more traditional playgrounds, the uneven landscapes and play equipment present in natural playgrounds are beneficial to exercise and getting kids mobile. Whether it's climbing a wall, jumping over barriers, climbing over log structures or building their construction skills, a child's physical fitness will improve with the help of natural playgrounds.

6. Social development
Outdoor play environments stimulate social development far better than indoor ones – I mean, being outdoors is just so much better - and the size and variety of the equipment provided in outdoor playgrounds also helps stimulate larger projects. These larger projects generally encourage more sociodramatic play themes, as children tackle bigger obstacles in groups. (Davies, 1996).

5. Cognitive development
Studies have found that playground design is crucial in aiding pretend play and divergent thinking. Creativity varies as a result of playground design – more pretend play and creativity occurs as a result of contemporary natural playgrounds compared to traditional designs. If the play area looks like a natural setting, it's much easier for children to visualise and creative their own play.

4. Co-operation
Traditional playgrounds that use monkey bars, slides and swings encourage competition rather than co-operation. Natural playgrounds were found to create opportunities to play creatively and work together to either construct solutions or confront problems. 

3. Time at play
Studies have shown that children playing in natural environments spend more time actively playing which has the additional benefit of providing better physical fitness. Put simply: your child will absorb more of the benefits of playtime, since natural playgrounds increase overall time playing.  

2. Teacher interaction
Teachers are a key part of school play, as their role as an observer and guide is vital in development. Teachers were found to be more likely to support and facilitate a child’s development when in the presence of higher quality outdoor play equipment. (DeBord et al., 2005)

1. Confronting risk
While safety is key to every playground, children must learn to confront risk as an important part of their development. Natural play areas are a good way to present elements of risk thanks to climbing and jumping challenges – but also balance that risk with safety measures such as soft landing surfaces and generally softer equipment. 



  1. Love visiting these play areas
    We have one in our local country park and it's always an "energetic" fun filled day

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