What Is Natural Playground Equipment?
Studies indicate that outdoor play supports a child’s learning and growth. Unlike indoors, the outdoors provides them sufficient room to interact with each other and the environment.
Nothing can substitute the time that kids spend learning, discovering, and playing in nature. Therefore, it's advisable to let kids connect with nature by playing in natural playgrounds. You can even make their outdoor play more fulfilling with natural playground equipment. It’s good for them, and they’ll love it.
This article explains everything there is to understand about playground equipment.
What Is a Natural Playground?
A natural playground is a play area featuring natural elements that integrate with the outdoor landscape. It’s also known as a nature-themed playground. You can find them in daycares, parks, schools, museums, churches, and other recreation departments.
A natural playground design is intended to make you feel like the time you’ve spent outdoors is spent in nature. Some natural elements you’re likely to find in a natural playground include:
- A Treehouse
- Rope bridge
- Hollow logs
- Drainage paths
The benefits of playing in these playgrounds are many. We can tie them to regular playgrounds, plus the gains of children spending time in nature.
Research by National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) shows that a modern American child spends 4-7 minutes on average per day on unstructured outdoor play. With so many indoor play options (and even video games), this amount of time seems to decrease from generation to generation.
We advocate for more outdoor play for kids. The physical exercises, learning and discovery opportunities, and social interactions children enjoy on natural playgrounds go a long way in making them healthy, relaxed, and happy. These benefits apply too.
However, natural playgrounds cannot be complete without the necessary equipment. This is where nature-themed playground equipment comes in.
What is Natural Playground Equipment?
Natural playground equipment is equipment made from or made to mimic natural elements, colors, and textures found in nature. However, the equipment is safer for kids, easier to maintain, and more durable. When you set this equipment against the landscape, it blends in and makes outdoor play second nature.
Besides, natural playground equipment tends to be more open-minded in how children and even adults can use them. For instance, a hollowed-out log presents several options to children. They can choose to hop over it, balance on top, or crawl inside.
Types of Natural Playground Equipment
Playgrounds are designed in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The amount spent also varies from one playground to another.
But no matter the differences in design, one thing remains in common--you’ll find no large steel playground equipment. Instead, these are the kind items you should include:
1. Tree Slices
There are several ways you can get innovative with tree bark slices.
We recommend using larger tree slices to make a path or trail leading to another playground activity. Use the small tree slices to create fun, larger versions of games like tic-tac-toe and checkers.
Tree back slices are great for playing hopscotch in natural playgrounds.
2. Round Logs and Stumps
You can use round logs and stumps to make stepping stones.
Naturally, kids love to jump from one stepping stone to another. That’s where the stumps and logs come in.
Try to form a sandpit’s boundary with the round logs or stumps. It will surprise you how great they are. Alternatively, place them throughout the playground to create a pathway for the kids to move from one activity to another.
Long hollow logs make ideal crawling spaces. They add to a natural playground's natural look and feel and with no maintenance worries.
To provide the children with a real sensory experience, ensure the logs and stumps have the color and texture of nature.
3. Wood Playhouses and Benches
If you can, consider incorporating wood playhouses and stages within your natural playground, especially if you’re designing for a school or daycare center. With these, the kids can play house and stage quickly organized plays.
We recommend an outdoor or mud kitchen too. These pieces of equipment are our favorite in a natural playground. Just ensure to add as many neat features as possible--mud sinks, pots, pans, and large working spaces.
You can also include some tools to plant and transplant. There’s just no limit to the kind of things you can add to make it as fun as possible.
We cannot forget to recommend natural wood or wood themed benches. They’re a good amenity for children and adults to rest with friends while socializing and swapping stories about their adventures on the natural playground.
4. Branch Outs
Branch outs give natural playgrounds a breath of fresh air. It’s one of the best ways to provide kids with the playground activities of tree play. It scales up tree play making it more appealing and enabling them to play more efficiently.
The good news is that it’s easy to supervise kids as they enjoy a multi-directional play flow.
You can add boulders to your natural playground to mimic a real rock-climbing experience. Just ensure the material used to make the boulders is safe. A good example of safe material is poly fiber.
Such materials not only look like the real deal but provide a perfect slip-resistant surface for kids to practice climbing, agility, and coordination.
We recommend mixing up boulders of several varieties, such as:
- Bench boulders: These are a natural alternative to commercial seating. They provide younger kids with easy-to-climb activities. These fun boulders boast the feel and look of real rock, challenging children of different ages to conquer new heights.
- Picnic boulders: Picnic boulders have a wide, flat top surface where children and adults can hang out with friends. We recommend picnic boulders with a built-in cave to allow easy wheelchair access.
- Tower boulders: These make natural playgrounds fun. They offer simple routes for children to climb to the top. If they have built-in caves, the better. Children can have more fun exploring on the ground.
6. Stone Pillars
The stone pillar is a piece of handy natural playground equipment that mimics ancient ruins or creates rock climbers’ paradise. Children and adults can use this natural-looking play equipment alone as a perch or seat.
You can also use this durable element as access to a deck or as a series of freestanding steppers that lead the children from one play area to another.
We prefer stone pillars that stand independently beside structures, requiring you to use no attachments. Also, ensure the stone pillar has the texture and color of real stone, so it blends with the surroundings. This way, the stone pillar encourages creative and sensory skill development.
7. Oak Trunks
Incorporating oak trunks is an excellent way of ensuring your natural play space looks like it has roots.
Look for an oak tree with varying handholds and undefined paths. It provides older kids with a challenging but safe tree climbing experience.
We recommend oak trunks that sit independently next to structures. Let them have colors and textures that mimic nature.
Kids love participating in pretend play. And whether jumping off a branch, scurrying up the oak trunk like woodland creatures, or catching the eye view of a bird, this is the equipment for the job.
Other Natural Playground Equipment
The list of equipment for a natural play space is endless. Other components you can include in your playground if you can afford the space include:
- Nature rock blocks
- Hatching eggs
- Climbing walls/ climbers using sticks, smooth logs, or branches.
- Water play tubs/outdoor water tables.
- Sand and water tables made from recycled tires
- Natura materials like wildflowers, leaves, and seed pods
- Sand tables
- Turtle stepping stones
- Wooden bridges
- Monkey bars
- Natural play surfacing
Benefits of Natural Playground Equipment
Natural playground equipment, especially those made from natural elements, brings numerous benefits to kids, including
- They encourage children to spend more time outdoors.
- The equipment helps improve kids’ health as they exercise a lot.
- Improves social skills, especially where an equipment’s play requires collaboration.
- Motor skill development.
- Play elements such as tree trumps and boulders can help increase balance and strength.
Whatever the theme or goal of your play space, we guarantee natural playground equipment not only fits in but brings additional benefits to kids of all ages and entices them. Since the equipment mimics forms present in nature, it gives kids a play environment with meaningful interaction with the natural world in an organic fashion.
Always ensure the equipment features the color, look, and texture of actual natural elements, to make the experience even better. Don’t forget the safety of the kids.