Global Village Preschool

Let’s fight for Natural Playgrounds!

Posted on: April 9, 2012

Global Village Preschool from the start, knew we had to have a Natural Playground. What we mean by this is a playground that utilizes nature and creates a “backyard” feel to inspire children to explore, create and learn…naturally. It is so amazing to see butterflies, ladybugs and other interesting and wonderful visitors in our playground. Very few (if any) preschools in South Florida can boast such an accomplishment. With that in mind here is an interesting article about Natural Playgrounds and the learning child:

A case for natural playscapes

Jeffrey R Severin
July 16, 2007

Recent studies have concluded that spending time in nature is an important component of human health and development. For many, nature inspires curiosity, creativity and a sense of freedom. And playing in natural landscapes provides opportunities for motor development and sensory experiences not available in the classroom or even on traditional playgrounds. While traditional playgrounds can confine children to specific activities and limit creative play, a movement towards more natural playscapes could have a profound impact on the development of important social, physical, and cognitive skills.

A study of playgrounds in Telemark, Norway, provides strong support for the developmental advantages of natural play. When compared with children that played on traditional playgrounds, children who played in a natural environment performed better on standardized motor skill tests, especially in the areas of balance and coordination.1 Researchers contribute the more rapid motor development exploration of more rugged, unstructured landscapes of the natural environment during play. Conversely, natural play supporter Helle Nebelong believes playing on traditional structures “becomes simplified, and then the child doesn’t have to pay attention to his or her movements.”2 Natural environments also promote creativity. In the playscapes utilized in the studies in Telemark, children discovered areas for play, developed their own games for specific areas, and named spaces based on the style of play. “The Cone War,” The Space Ship,” and “The Cliff” were among the favorite locations children named. Researchers concluded that the natural environment fostered more creative play by providing unstructured playscapes, loose materials and natural objects to play with3.

The developmental benefits of natural playspaces are especially important for young children. In a 1997 article in Early Childhood Education Journal, Mary Rivkin notes that “the younger the child the more the child learns through sensory and physical activity” so providing a more varied and natural setting that provide a sensory experience can strongly impact physical and cognitive development.4 Journalist and author Richard Louv has spent time interviewing children, parents, educators and researchers to examine childhood, and especially childhood connections with nature. He describes this relationship in his book Childhood’s Future:

Nature, for children, seems to work on at least two levels. For some children it serves as a blank slate on which they may draw the fantasies supplied by our culture…At a deeper level, nature gives children itself, for its own sake, not as a reflection of our culture. In addition to the sense of freedom and fantasy, access to nature also gives children a sense of privacy, of being separate from the adult world in a place older than the adult world5.

1 Fjortoft, Ingunn. (2001) “The natural environment as a playground for children: the impact of outdoor play activities in preprimary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal. Vol 29, No 2.

2 Baker, Linda (2006). “The politics of Play”. Metropolis Observed. November 2006.

3 Fjortoft, Ingunn. (2001) “The natural environment as a playground for children: the impact of outdoor play activities in preprimary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal. Vol 29, No 2.

4 Rivkin, M., (1997) The Schoolyard Habitat, Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1.

5 Louv, Richard. (1990) Childhood’s Future. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Unfortunately, children are increasingly spending less time in natural settings. Revkin argues that society has begun to separate children from the natural environment that supports such positive aspects of development. Through urbanization, car‐centered development, social deterioration, and pollution of water bodies, it has become increasingly difficult for youth to experience unguided encounters with nature.6 Lou has referred to this disconnect as “nature deficit disorder”. Citing the hypothesis of “biophilia” he believes that humans have an innate need to “to see natural shapes in the horizon”7 and are positively impacted by the natural environment. He questions whether removing that element has contributed to the increase in ADD and other mental health concerns among American youth.

Natural playgrounds help address these concerns, while promoting physical and cognitive development, by mimicking experiences in the natural environment and providing opportunities to explore more natural surroundings. They also provide a unique experience for the community to participate in activities associated with the park and the environment.

Several studies in the 1970’s and 80’s examining different types of playscapes supported both aspects. When compared to traditional playgrounds, playscapes that offered adventure, encouraged fantasy play, and provided a place of retreat were strongly favored. Furthermore, a majority of youth observed in three studies preferred inexpensive equipment and structures built by parents over other types of equipment8.

As communities grow and develop, it is important to consider what is being lost in the process and make efforts to preserve more natural spaces for youth to explore, investigate, and be creative with their play.

6 Rivkin, M., (1997). The Schoolyard Habitat, Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1 (61‐66).

7 Roberts, David (2006) “Louv Story”. Grist Enviornmental News & Commentary. <www.grist.com>.

8 Hart, Graig H. (ed.) (1993) Children on playgrounds: research perspectives and applications. Albany: State University of New York Press.

9 Holleman, Doris. Kansas City Kansas Community College Campus Childcare Center. Personal communication. July 16, 2007.

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