Arbor Month 2014
Why Play in Nature?
Nature play is a critical part of human development. Playing in trees, forests, and with nature provides a safe space to assess physical risk, an environment to nurture good mental health, and promotes overall good physical health through activity.
While long-term studies are being developed on nature play, current thought is that nature play provides more challenging and numerous options for safe play. For example, a slide is designed to be used only one way. Children's natural curiosity lead them to begin using a slide in unintended ways. That's where injuries are likely or can happen. Nature play is flexible—no objects are created for one set use. Walking on a log provides a low-risk first testing of balance before moving onto advanced activities—where the log might become a pirate ship that children run on, around, over, and under defending from mythical marauders!
Scrambling on logs, building forts, and digging in the dirt provide hours of imaginative play. Logs become pirate ships, forts become feats of engineering, and who knows what we'll find in the dirt! Trees provide shade and protection from UV rays, dirt provides beneficial, immunity-enhancing bacteria, and because children tend not to get bored playing in nature, they are more active physically.
Letting a part of your yard or neighborhood park "go wild" is easy. Lay down a large log for sitting, balancing, and climbing. Plant trees and berry-producing shrubs that attract wildlife and children. Provide large sticks and pieces of burlap for building forts. Most importantly, give children permission to explore these areas and let them "own" it.
It saves money
Even a simple swing set with a slide costs upwards of $700. The typical playground equipment found at a school or park costs between $100,000 and $200,0001. Average playground equipment purchased today typically needs to be replaced ever 15-20 years. Setting up even two nature play features such as limbing a tree for climbing, laying out a digging pit, or providing a barrel of long sticks costs very little and creates more diverse opportunities for play. In addition, property values can increase up to 20 percent2 when your yard contains healthy mature trees and native plants and shrubs.
What does the research say? Dozens of research articles support the benefits of nature play for healthy children. Check out the information and decide for yourself!
1. Source: National Playground Safety Institute, National Recreation and Park Association, www.nrpa.org/npsi
2. Source: National Arbor Day Foundation http://www.arborday.org/trees/benefits.cfm