Natural Play

Natural play, what does it mean and how does it effect our playgrounds? As designers, have we really grasped what the concept of natural play means? Is it as simple as adding tree trunks, sand, and boulders to a design? If so, great! We do this in many of our playgrounds here at Design Concepts. But yet, I want to believe that there is more to this notion of natural play than the addition of “natural” elements. Although, as designers, we are trying to incorporate the notion of natural play, we are still faced with the same parameters and restrictions of liability, safety zones, and fall heights.

Natural play is not strictly about using “natural” elements, it is about creating connections, a sense of risk, and a feeling of discovery. Creating connections is about designing spaces, such as playgrounds that allow kids to interact with their natural surroundings. A sense of risk is important for kids to “test their limits” and a sense of discovery can be created by providing opportunities to unearth something new. In the end, no matter how “natural” the space is, it must be well designed.

One of Design Concepts most recent projects, Bear Creek Park, is a great example of a park where formal play elements, such as swings and climbing walls, are combined with natural play elements. And yes, we used tree trunks and boulders! Our clients are asking for natural play and parents are talking about natural play, our challenge as designers is to continue to create connections with nature, “test our limits” and remember our sense of discovery.