Introduction Natural Playspaces

Tess Michaels ² Tessa Rose Playspace and Landscape Design 0416 565297

The Relationship Between Children and Nature
Children feel connected to nature ² it is a constant in their lives. The earlier a child develops a ´bondµ with the natural world, the more likely that child will feel trust and comfort in nature versus fear and dread. ´Outdoor play experiences can be as effective as indoor play in stimulating young children·s developmentµ. (Henniger, 1993)

The Relationship Between Children and Nature

´ With children·s access to the outdoors and the
natural world becoming increasingly limited or nonexistant, child care, kindergartens and schools where children spend 40-50 hours per week may be our last opportunity to reconnect children with the natural world and create a future generation that values and preserves nature.µ (Malone and Tranter 2003)

Think back to where you played outdoors as a child. Picture yourself moving through that space ² What do you remember? What did you do there? Remember the environment ² What were its colours and textures? What sounds do you remember hearing ? What did it smell like? Were there things you could eat in your outdoor environment ?² fruits, vegetables, herbs? What about the seasons in this remembered place? How did the place change when summer became autumn? How did your play change? ´Children are tuned into the magic of life in ways that too many of us have tuned outµ

Why Children Need Nature  

Direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health Proximity to views of and daily exposure to natural settings increases children·s ability to focus, increases their attention span and enhances cognitive skills . Multisensory experiences in nature help to build ´the cognitive constructs necessary for sustained intellectual developmentµ

Why Children Need Nature   

Nature is important to children·s development. Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity and problem solving Play in nature increases children·s self esteem and self worth Provides children with a level of resistance to negative stress and depression ² natural playspaces allow children to have opportunities to remove themselves from everyday pressures

Why Children Need Nature  

Children are able to experience natural lifecycles, growth and decay. They begin to understand natural systems and see that nature is a uniquely regenerative process Natural spaces and materials stimulate children·s limitless imagination and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity observable in almost any group of children playing in a natural environment and/or playspace

Why Children Need Nature   

Children develop a bond with the natural world that can form a foundation for environmental stewardship Natural playspaces and green spaces offer social interaction and prompt social support which leads to social competence Children who spend more time playing in natural playspaces have more friends ² the deepest friendships develop from shared experiences particularly in environments in which all the senses are enlivened

What I like doing best is nothingµ.
Christopher Robin (A.A Milne, 1928)

´A rich open environment will continuously provide alternative choices for creative engagement. A rigid, bland environment will limit healthy growth and development of the individual or groupµ. (Robin Moore, 1997)

´Many child care and school outdoor environments, even today, consist of isolated pieces of equipment in a monoculture of real or artificial grassµ. (Herrington and Studman, 1998)

´Fixed equipment leaves little room for children to play creatively, since there is generally a finite number of ways to use each aspect of the equipmentµ. (Brown and Burger, 1984: Walsh, 1993)

Swedish studies found ´that children on asphalt playgrounds had play that was much more interrupted, they played in short bursts. But in more natural playgrounds, children invent whole sagas that they carried from day-to-day ² making and collecting meaningµ. (Grahn, Martensson, Lindblad, Nilsson, Ekman, 1997)

´Researchers have also observed that when children played in an environment dominated by play structures, rather than natural elements, they established their social hierarchy through physical competence. After an open area was planted with shrubs and grasses, the quality of the play was different and became more fantasy based and social standing became based on language skills, creativity and inventiveness.µ (Louv, 2005)


Labyrinths provide a powerful means of introducing restful movement into children·s playspaces. They have one path which leads to the centre and back out again and have been used for centuries as a form of meditation. Walking a labyrinth is a right brain activity, enhancing peacefulness.
Labyrinths can be comprised of many different types of plant materials and also be in various forms, sizes and shapes. Native grasses have been increasingly successful as low level labyrinths.

Mazes differ to labyrinths in that they are more of a puzzle and provide children with choices about which direction to take, etc. There is a wide variety of materials that can be utilised to certain heights that either provide gaps in the maze or are low enough to provide complete visual access. Plant mazes don·t all require high maintenance and pruning ² there are many options for low maintenance mazes.
Although the maze shown here is large scale, adaptations can always be made to suit site conditions. Both labyrinths and mazes are excellent alternatives to turf areas which have not been successful due to drought and compaction from overuse, especially when the appropriate plant materials are used in their design and development.

´Children want play environments where they have the power to imprint themselves upon the landscape, endow the landscape with significance and experience their own activities as capable of transforming the environment.µ (White, 1997)
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. ~ Rachel Carson ~

Create your idea of a playspace using natural and found materials. (see the example shown) Be ready to discuss each part and share your work!



Hills/Tunnels Water Plants ± texture, scents, season/s Pathways Sand Stages ± cubbies, ampitheatres, ampitheatres, etc 



Artwork Sound ± music, plants Hideouts ±tepees Open Areas Seating/Gathering Spaces Gardens