The Importance of Naturalistic Playspace Design

Tess Michaels ² Tessa Rose Playspace and Landscape Design 0416 565297 tess@tessaroselandscapes.com.au www.tessaroselandscapes.com.au

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
As young children spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.

Howard Gardner ² Theory of Multiple Intelligences
8th Intelligence ² Naturalistic Intelligence ² deals with sensing patterns and making connections to elements in nature

The Relationship Between Children and Nature

Children with natural intelligence:  Have keen sensory skills including sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch  Readily use heightened sensory skills to notice and categorize things from the natural world  Like to be outside, or like outside activities like gardening, nature walks, etc, geared towards observing nature

The Relationship Between Children and Nature   

 

Easily notice patterns in their surroundings - likes, dislikes, similarities, anomalies Are interested in and care about animals or plants Notice things in the environment others often miss Create, keep or have collections about natural objects/environments Are very interested in TV shows, videos, books or objects from or about nature, science and animals

The Relationship Between Children and Nature  

Show heightened concern and awareness for the envaironment and/or endangered specie Easily learn characteristics, names, categorisations and data about objects or species found in the natural world (Gardner, 2003) Without natural play and playspaces this important intelligence will be lost.

How did you used to play as a child? What sorts of things did you do? Do you think children play differently now and why?

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, increasing attention span and enhancing cognitive skills, fostering brain development 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 creaativity, problem solving and intellectual development 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 Creative play is increased ² natural spaces and materials stimulate children·s limitless imaginations 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 ² important for the future of the environment Natural playspaces and green space offers social interaction and prompts social support 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

Why Children Need Nature   

Free play in nature and a natural playspace allows individual children to test themselves by interacting with the environment and activating their potential Children with exposure to nature may be more likely to develop the psychological survival skills that will help them detect real danger. Play in nature may instil instinctual confidence Nature introduces children to the idea ² to the knowing that they are not alone in this world and that realities and dimensions exist alongside their own

Why Children Need Nature
ADD and ADHD
Studies show that nature may be useful as a therapy used with or when appropriate even replacing medications or behavioural therapies.

Symptoms of ADD and ADHD may include: 
 



Restlessness Difficulty paying attention, listening, following directions and focusing on tasks Aggression, being antisocial Levels of academic failure

Why Children Need Nature
Approximately 90% of children on medications in the United States are boys! A 2003 survey, published in ´Psychiatric Servicesµ, found that the rate at which American children are prescribed antidepressants almost doubled in five years - the steepest increase ² 66% was among pre-schoolers. Researchers pointed out that outdoor play and nature experience have proven beneficial for cognitive functioning, reduction in symptoms of ADD and an increase in self disciplined and emotional wellbeing at all developmental stages. (Pergams and Zaradic, 2007)

´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)

Why We Avoid Natural Playspaces in Early Childhood Settings  

Concern for accidents in natural playspaces ² liability becomes a major issue even though the accident rate is lower in natural playspaces than in more conventional playspaces Fear of litigation ² the cumulation of rules and regulations which tell children that traditional forms of outdoor play are against the rules. An environment where the potential for a lawsuit is more the focus and less responsibility is taken for small accidents and/or mistakes by families

Why We Avoid Natural Playspaces in Early Childhood Settings
Poorly designed outdoor spaces ² bad past experiences when re-designing centre playspaces Growth of the use of air conditioning ² no need to be outdoors Apprehensive parents leading to apprehensive teachers, centres and children Our obsession with safety    

Children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation. 82% of mothers with children between the ages of three and twelve years, cited crime and safety concerns as one of the primary reasons they do not allow their children to play outdoors.

Why We Avoid Natural Playspaces in Early Childhood Settings
Children face more dangers indoors or in their own homes than outdoors ² Spores from toxic moulds  Bacteria or allergens from vermin  Carbon monoxide, radon or lead dust, etc  The allergen levels of newer, sealed buildings can be as much as 200 times greater than older structures.  Plastic play structures and infectious diseases (Environmental Protection Authority) 

Why We Avoid Natural Playspaces in Early Childhood Settings  

 

Overly structured play experiences ² ´What I like doing best, is nothingµ Christopher Robin, AA Milne 1928 Less time available to explore the outdoors The concept that indoors is where all the learning happens and the outdoors is time for children to ´run aroundµ Dependence on computers for all information and learning. This overdependence on them displaces other sources of education from arts to nature

´Many child care outdoor environments, even today, consist of isolated pieces of equipment in a mono-culture 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)

Small Group Work In groups work together to produce a small plan of your centre·s outdoor space. Think about where you may be able to either add or create two or three natural elements for children in their play.

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)

How To Bring Back Natural Play  

  

Plant a native/indigenous plant area to give children a sense of place and connection to their local environment Use plants that attract birds and wildlife Create a bog garden Use vines and arbours as entry ways into special spaces Provide children with magnifying glasses and places to store their natural findings

How To Bring Back Natural Play   

 

Add a nesting box to any trees in your centre Create sensory gardens ² plants with scent, texture, sound and taste, eg, bush tucker gardens Develop an edible garden Incorporate a dry creek bed, small boardwalks, etc Create a labyrinth or maze using native grasses and/or shrubs

How To Bring Back Natural Play 
   

Plant trees for shade instead of using shade structures and sails Provide places for children to sit and observe nature Give children tasks such as looking after specific plants/trees ² monitoring mulch, watering, plant health, etc, builds a sense of responsibility Some children are fascinated by bugs, for others they are a source of fear and confusion ² by helping children catch and release safe insects, teachers can foster ease and understanding See the centre outdoor area as a landscape ² which is more engaging and can allow children to express themselves and their feelings within it

How To Bring Back Natural Play   

Add open ended, loose parts to children·s play - such as trees, shrubs, flowers, water, long grasses, sand and structures that offer privacy and views Rediscover the outdoors with children ² share experiences and be involved with them on every level Children value the unmanicured spaces ² some areas of wild, spacious, uneven areas broken by clusters of plants

How To Bring Back Natural Play
When children are exploring be aware of telling them to ´be carefulµ all the time as this can stress children who may already be nervous about natural spaces ² try to use ´pay attentionµ which helps to combat fear by giving the children the power to control it.

When re-designing your centre·s outdoor playspace consider including natural elements ² they will be of benefit to both children and families. The most effective way to connect children to nature is to connect ourselves to nature. If children sense genuine adult enthusiasm, they·ll want to emulate that interest.

Do we want natural play to be a part of children·s lives? Do we want them to carry with them a sense of wonder about their childhood and their play environments?

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. ~ Rachel Carson ~