Incorporating nature into school playgrounds offers a multitude of benefits for children’s physical, mental, and emotional development, writes Alexandra Cook.

In an age dominated by screens and indoor activities, the importance of connecting children with nature has become even more important. One way to encourage children outside is by incorporating nature into your playground. These green, nature-inspired spaces offer numerous benefits for children’s physical, mental, and emotional development. Spending time outdoors in the fresh air is fantastic for health. Encouraging children to help with the setting up and maintenance of your nature area can include digging, planting, lifting logs, building rockeries, pushing wheelbarrows, and generally being involved. All these activities will get their hearts pumping.

Nature-rich school playgrounds can stimulate cognitive development in children. Exposure to nature and natural elements can enhance cognitive functioning, including problem-solving skills, creativity, and attention span. When children interact with natural materials like mud, water, or leaves, they engage in sensory exploration and imaginative play. Nature also has a calming and therapeutic effect on children. Exposure to green spaces, even in the school playground, can reduce stress levels and promote mental well-being. Children who play in nature-rich environments tend to experience lower levels of stress and improved emotional regulation.

■ Playing in natural settings.

When children play in these biodiverse settings, they often engage in collaborative activities such as building hedgehog houses and planting bulbs or working together on nature-inspired projects. These interactions encourage teamwork, cooperation, and the development of essential social skills. Children learn about the importance of caring for the environment and each other, promoting a sense of responsibility from a young age. Children who grow up playing in natural settings are more likely to develop a deep appreciation for the environment and become future advocates for sustainability.

Schools can use their nature areas as an educational tool to teach children about biodiversity, conservation, and the importance of protecting the planet. This not only supports academic learning but also instils a sense of environmental responsibility in the next generation.

Nature-based playgrounds can be designed to be inclusive and accessible to children of all abilities. Features like sensory gardens, accessible planters, and wheelchair-friendly pathways can be incorporated to ensure that every child can enjoy and benefit from being outdoors. Start by assessing the available space and identifying areas that can be transformed into nature-rich zones in the playground. Design specific areas of the playground to serve as wildlife habitats. You can have birdhouses, nesting boxes, butterfly gardens, and rock piles for insects. Include a water feature like a small pond or birdbath to attract birds and provide a water source for various creatures. Place identification panels near key points of interest such as birdhouses, bird feeders, and insect-friendly plants. These panels will enable children to identify the minibeasts and birds they can see.

Plant a variety of flowering plants, including those that attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. Create different habitats in the playground, such as a meadow, woodland area, or wildflower garden, to support a diverse range of species. Designate areas where students can sit and observe the natural world. Install benches, log seating, or even tree stumps to create cosy observation spots. These areas should be strategically located near bird feeders, butterfly gardens, and other points of interest.

You can create an enriching environment that not only enhances the educational experience but also instils a lifelong appreciation for nature. It’s a beautiful way to connect children with the natural world while promoting ecological awareness and responsibility.

Alexandra Cook
Author: Alexandra Cook

Alexandra Cook
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Alexandra Cook Content creator at dbdplay, playground design and installation for schools and nurseries.

Social media: @dbdplayuk


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