Bringing Nature Back Into Play: Creating Rustic Playgrounds in a Tech World
Finding the balance between the natural and the high-tech is a challenge that playground designers have been wrestling with for a while. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches — but you may not need to choose one or the other.
Blending natural elements with modern playgrounds allows children to reap the benefits of both. They can explore the world around them while playing with exciting structures that offer new experiences. Creating this kind of environment often forms what is called a “natural playground.”
The Role Technology Plays in Children’s Lives
Before we get into what a natural playground is, let’s talk about technology. Love it or hate it, technology is a powerful force in today’s world. Education and many jobs for future generations will rely on digital skills. Tech has been demonized and lauded by different people and organizations as the downfall of society or something to propel us into the future. Of course, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
For kids, technology can be educational. There are many apps and toys that use digital tools to teach children new things, and digital skills will be vital to their future. Technology isn’t all positive, though. As of 2019, kids ages 2-17 years old spent a little more the three hours a day using screen media on average — and that doesn’t include time spent on schoolwork.
This screen time can offer powerful benefits, such as the development of critical digital skills and self-expression through accessible digital programs. But it can also carry some scary risks, including:
With all that time on a screen, children have less time to play and interact with others in a physical setting. And for children in urban environments, being out in nature could be an incredibly rare opportunity. Natural playgrounds can provide some of that exposure within the city.
What Is a Natural Playground?
A natural playground is a great way to counterbalance all that technology. This kind of playground is filled with elements and textures from the environment, like logs, boulders, stumps, and plants. These items might be real, or they can be realistic synthetic items — what’s important is that they mimic nature.
An excellent approach to creating natural playgrounds includes using a healthy mix of synthetic and natural items. Sometimes, a pure, all-natural park isn’t as exciting as it could be, but a fully modern park loses out on all the benefits of nature. By meeting in the middle, you get both.
Other elements you might see in natural playground include:
- Wooden treehouses
- Log tunnels
- Tree slices
- Natural shade
- Water features
Typically, these features are scattered throughout a significant amount of wide open space. Kids can walk around and enjoy unstructured playtime. Nature playgrounds are a great place to use sensory activities, too — like plants that kids can touch, water they can feel, and lightweight items they can pick up and play with.
In terms of aesthetics, earth tones and textures help make the fixtures feel natural and blend in with the environment. Asymmetrical constructions can also contribute to a more organic approach. An organic feel can also make the structures feel more inviting.
In more urban environments, this deliberate injection of nature is great for exposing children to the natural world when it might be scarce in their regular lives.
Benefits of Natural Playgrounds
A traditional metal playground may come in a variety of cookie-cutter designs. Sometimes they’re intimidating, and sometimes they’re so standardized that they’re boring. Nature-inspired playgrounds offer a variety of advantages over traditional structures, including:
- Boosting the immune system: By exposing kids to the right kind of nature, you can help them strengthen their immune systems to fight common illnesses.
- Vitamin D exposure: Being outside in the sun instead of inside with a screen exposes kids to more vitamin D, which is essential for several types of bodily functions. It is important for bone development, the immune system, brain functioning, and mood regulation.
- Reducing risks for obesity and heart problems: Studies have shown that kids tend to be more active when playing in nature play areas. With an increase in activity comes a reduction in the risk of obesity and heart issues.
- Fostering imagination: As playground fixtures are less structured, children have to get creative. They might problem solve or turn items into toys and props. Plus, they can socialize with other kids as they do so. Without toys that strictly tell them what to do, they are free to exercise their imaginations to the fullest.
Natural playgrounds can present a combination of a wide variety of skill sets and positive attributes for child development. They can blend motor skills with creativity and socialization. They’re also highly enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing — after all, many people find beauty in nature, so why not include it in your structure?
Creating Nature-Inspired Play Environments
Natural-feeling structures are key to a natural playground. While it doesn’t need to be made entirely from natural elements, be sure to include components that mimic it. For instance, man-made play structures with natural edges and faux wood can feel more rustic. They’re easier to maintain and won’t cause splinters, making them much more viable for long-term use than certain natural products that could rot over time.
To kickstart your natural playground ideas, here are some of the natural products we offer at Little Tikes Commercial™:
- Plank Climb: Kids can use rustic faux wooden planks attached to an angular ramp to climb up to different parts of a structure.
- NU-edge X Lumberjack Climber: In this fixture, small “logs” protrude out from a wall, and kids can use them to climb up and onto a structure.
- NU-edge Clubhouse: For a treehouse-like feeling, kids can climb up a ladder into this “wood”-enclosed space, where they can access other parts of the playground or hang out in the shade.
- NU-edge Crawl Log: Children can crawl through and on top of this simple, tunnel-like structure that is designed to look and feel just like a log.
- Stacked timber wall: The Stacked Timber Wall is a bit like a rock wall, but more natural. Boards of “wood” stick out at different heights for kids to use as hand- and footholds to climb their way to the top.
- NU-edge Plank Bridge Climber: For a fun balance challenge, the NU-edge Plank Bridge Climber has kids walk across a bridge of faux wooden planks and rope connections.
Combining these elements with things like small water fountains and plant life can take your natural play area to the next level. Kids can touch the water and watch the plants grow and change over time. Adding natural sensory elements can help children learn more about how these features work and make them more experiential.
Design Your Natural Playground With Equipment From Little Tikes Commercial
Whether you’re working on a city playground, rural playground, childcare facility, or a faith organization, you can use your playground building opportunity to help include nature in kids’ lives. And we can help.
With our NU-edge and Naturtek systems and wide variety of nature-based activities, Little Tikes Commercial has the tools to create compelling, natural playgrounds that help kids learn, grow, and play. A nature-based play area can improve kids’ health, boost their imaginations, keep them playing for longer, and educate them on the wonderful world around them.
To learn more about working with Little Tikes Commercial and how our products can help you make the best playground possible, contact a representative today.