Thursday, September 5, 2013

Natural Playground

Future site of natural playground. 

Back in 2011 I designed a natural playground space for a school for kids with special needs in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to build some natural play components for my own kids. And now that we live in a more natural setting, it just makes sense. My kids love traditional playgrounds too, and they are important for a kid’s physical development, but one would look out of place on the forest edge. Besides, they have access to those at school and parks. Pinterest is full of ideas (see my Natural Playgrounds board) for fun, natural things to swing from, climb on, build with, and learn from.

Natural playgrounds provide the same benefits as a traditional playground, but in them, kids are more apt to learn about the natural world around them. Play spaces are created using natural materials, and creative play is encouraged. Natural pathways lead kids through the play area where they can climb over logs and stones, jump from one tree stump to another, balance on a wooden balance beam, climb and swing from ropes, and build with tree branches. They can create nature-based art, act in a play on a wooden stage, or just sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the woodland. That’s the dream, anyway.

So, why are natural playspaces important? Because kids are losing touch with what is natural. Given the opportunity, my kids would choose the ipad over any other toy, and while I think the educational apps are fantastic, for their mental health and mine we all need to be outside. It’s the main reason we moved to a place in the woods – to regain that connection to nature that I feel is so important for our health and development. If our area had one, I’d sign my youngest up for Forest Kindergarten. Since we don’t, we will incorporate some of those teaching theories at home. More on how natural playspaces benefit kids, and this provocative article by David Orr

The location of our natural playground will be in the back portion of our lot, adjacent to the forest preserve. I had been thinking about where to site it since we moved in, and the other morning while pruning some trees, I noticed a large black walnut tree inside a small clearing. The ground is covered with pachysandra there, so we will spend some time in the next few weeks clearing that out and doing a bit more pruning of the trees. Then the fun will start – building the play components. I think we will start with a balance beam and a stage, and go from there. Updates coming soon!

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