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Nature Play or Traditional Play. What’s most effective?

When it comes to creating a play space there are many types of play you can include. Some common words you hear are: nature play, traditional play, collaborative play and inclusive play.

Over the past few decades, we have seen an outstanding rise in the use of nature play in both public and educational play spaces. But still more common than nature play is the use of traditional playground equipment.

Which is better? We say neither. Each has their place and work well together.

Nature Playgrounds

Many of us grew up playing outside in nature as a part of our everyday childhood life. We have happy memories of time spent outdoors, camping, rolling down a grassy hill, climbing trees, playing backyard footy or cricket, picnics by the river and swimming in the ocean.

Children today are engaging in nature play less and less. They’re spending less time outside and the shift to indoor activity on screens and devices is increasing. The impact of this can be seen in growing rates of childhood obesity, depression, and behavioural disorders.

Global research suggests that unstructured outdoor play is fundamental to childhood. Opportunities for our children to play outdoors in a natural environment are essential to their overall wellbeing and assisting them in becoming healthy and well developed.

We define nature play as any unstructured outdoor play, usually including and using some natural materials – rocks, trees, grass, water, and sand etc. It is unstructured in the way children can ‘choose their own adventure and experiment with the different natural elements within the play space. While nature play is not without adult supervision, it usually does not require adult control and children are free to create and explore.

Nature play enhances children’s cognitive flexibility, emotional and physical wellbeing, improves their creativity and increases their knowledge and respect for the natural environment later in life.

Nature play spaces require special design to avoid an underwhelming result. We recommend engaging professional help to create a nature play space.

Traditional Playgrounds

In contrast to nature play, traditional playgrounds involve the use of specially designed and constructed playground equipment comprised of many different materials, including timber, steel, plastic and rubber. This type of equipment is commonly called modular equipment.

There is a misconception among adults that traditional playgrounds are boring and unengaging. We must design playgrounds remembering who we are designing for. Children don’t think traditional type playgrounds are boring. With today’s innovation, flexibility in manufacturing and a large range of materials available, this traditional playground equipment is becoming even more engaging.

Traditional play has a stronger focus on the development of children’s motor and physical skills. Think of the strength and balance required to push off on a swing, climb to the top of a rock wall or swing across monkey bars.

Aside from the physical benefits, playing helps emotional tolerance, social skills, team building, communication skills, creativity and imagination. These are especially important when playing with others.

So, which is better, nature, or structured play?

Neither. Both have their place.

However, a combination of both results in an excellent outcome.

Combining Nature & Traditional

And when adventure+ designs a playground, we believe that an effective play space should include a balance of traditional play with some nature play elements. Having only nature play can sometimes be limiting and can be difficult to maintain. We recommend having both traditional and nature play to offer our children a choice and give them the best chance of developing a balance of skills and experiences.

We’ve seen that children love playing with nature, getting dirty, climbing trees, examining insects, collecting flowers. But, they also love the traditional play equipment that we have enjoyed since we were children – the slides, swings, and monkey bars – these structured play items add another dimension to play spaces.

Some of the projects below are terrific examples of doing this effectively:

Cornerstone Estate Safari Park

Tintern School

When you’re looking for a unique, engaging public or educational play space, look to adventure+. Contact our team on 1300 237 587 or sales@adventureplus.net.au today!

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