Supplement Feature - April 2010
Find a printable version here

A Natural Trend

Natural Environment Enhances Playground Designs

By Dawn Klingensmith

Give 'em Some Green Space

Overall, "There's been a shift in the industry toward more naturalized playgrounds. About three years ago, the focus shifted on being sustainable and healthier, more naturalized, heavier on shade, heavier on loose parts for children to manipulate," said Vicki L. Stoecklin, director of education and child development, White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group, Kansas City, Mo.

This shift coincides with a growing number of nonprofit groups aimed at getting children outdoors and in action, and playing in a way that involves imagination as opposed to electronics. To varying degrees, these groups "are trying to encourage a more natural approach in outdoor environments for children, with more hands-on, changeable things, more creative play and more opportunities to explore on their own," said McLellan, a retired professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Research shows that children who have opportunities to play in nature typically are healthier, happier, better adjusted, more cooperative, and more likely to appreciate and care for the natural world. And surveys suggest that children prefer to play in natural environments. Architect Ron King, president of The Natural Playgrounds Co. in Concord, N.H., has interviewed more than 5,000 children and consistently hears that they would rather dig, climb trees, make forts and explore nature. And when kids get bored with equipment, King pointed out, they start using it in ways for which it was not designed, which leads to injuries and property damage.

One manufacturer interviewed for this article conceded that "sterile, post-and-platform playground equipment" neither satisfies kids' desires nor addresses critical aspects of their development. In fact, according to that manufacturer's Web site, "Nothing draws kids to play like nature."

So how does manufactured equipment fit into that?