By Penreach ECD Change Agent Poonam Dwarkaram
The natural playscape (or natural playground) is defined as a space with as little man-made components as possible. Using native plants, rolling hills, lots of trees; playscapes represent a natural place such as a forest. Playscapes are designed with the intent of bringing children and people back to nature.
What is a natural playground? Simply stated, a natural playground or natural playscape is an area where kids can play with natural elements such as sand, water, wood and living plants. Think about when you were a child. Did you have a favourite place to play in a natural environment? Chances are, you did, maybe in a nearby vacant lot, a field, woodlot, a park, or even your backyard. Today, many children simply lack the time to engage in this kind of play. Many families’ calendars are filled with obligations; children spend most of their day in school, daycare, and organized after-school activities. Moreover, when children finally have some time to themselves they tend to flock to electronic games and television instead of going outside. Children lack the free, self-directed playtime needed to invent their own activities and games. Planned, adult-coordinated activities during and after school, as well as electronic games and television, limit a child’s ability to engage in exploration and free expression. Research indicates that this ability, along with access to natural settings, is critical to children’s development in every major way: intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically. Benefits of increased free play time and access to natural areas include improved concentration & impulse control, emotional coping & stress reduction, stimulation of creativity, reduced symptoms ADD and ADHD, and improved motor coordination.
Key Benefits of Natural Playground Play
- Children who play regularly in natural settings are sick less often. Mud, sand, water, leaves, sticks, pine cones and nuts can help to stimulate children’s immune system as well as their imagination.
- Children who spend more time outside tend to be more physically active and less likely to be overweight.
- Children who play in natural settings are more resistant to stress; have the lower incidence of behavioural disorders, anxiety and depression; and have a higher measure of self-worth.
- Children who play in natural settings play in more diverse, imaginative and creative ways and show improved language and collaboration skills. Single-use, repetitive play equipment becomes boring quickly.
- Natural, irregular and challenging spaces help kids learn to recognise, assess and negotiate risk and build confidence and competence.
- Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other.
- Bullying behaviour is greatly reduced where children have access to diverse nature-based play environments.
- Symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder are reduced after contact with nature.
The concept of natural playgrounds is fairly new, and to bring about more awareness, Penreach conducted a short presentation to over 100 ECD centre managers recently, to give them a better understanding of natural playgrounds, and how to build them in a cost-effective way, involving the parents and members of the community. The centre managers were shown ways of using materials easily available and which could be sourced from the surrounding environment like, wood, stones, blocks, branches, tree stumps, tyres etc. They were encouraged to involve parents and members from the community to assist in building the playgrounds to have some ownership and involvement in the process, so that they could also understand the importance of it. At first, they were a bit hesitant, as they wondered about children getting hurt, but soon understood the benefits and development for children, and were eager to learn more.