How to create an irresistible natural outdoor play space

It is unfortunate that children can’t design their outdoor play environments. Research on children’s preferences shows that if children had the design skills to do so, their creations would be completely different from the areas called playgrounds that most adults design for them.


Outdoor spaces designed by children would not only be fully naturalized with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals and insects, but also would be rich with a wide variety of play opportunities of every imaginable type. If children could design their outdoor play spaces, they would be rich developmentally appropriate learning environments where children would want to stay all day. – White and Stoeklin

That says it beautifully don’t you think?  It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to create a beautiful outdoor space. We can find quite a few things in our own gardens and backyards to use.

Awareness of the benefits of children’s contact with nature is growing.

These benefits include:

  • Keeping children physically active
  • Improving children’s overall wellbeing
  • Engaging and enchanting children in outdoor play for longer periods of time
  • Increased resilience
  • Building risk assessment awareness
  • Developing strong connections with nature
  • Growing children’s social capacity
  • Improving and refining children’s physical skills


Many organisations are embracing the idea of developing nature play spaces within their educational setting or local park environment.


Children love to play with “loose parts” which they can move about, use for their own self-selected construction projects and incorporate into their dramatic play.  Did you know that studies indicate that children actually prefer to play with stones, bricks, stumps, sand and other natural materials to carefully designed playground equipment?  Spaces to pause, spaces to hide, spaces to meet, small spaces, secret places : children love to have nooks, crannies, cubbies and places to kick back and relax in their play spaces.  An added bonus of a natural play space is that kids can easily find loose parts such as leaves, tan bark and pods to use in their pretend play in the cubbies. Adding natural elements to a playspace that kids can move around: gravel, mulch, tree biscuits and stones can give children a real sense of empowerment within the environment.

Do you have a favorite secret place in your garden or at your preschool?  I’d love to hear about it. 


  1. Fanbong Pham

    Our council built one close to our school, and our nature trips are so very popular!

  2. Janine Desmines

    Wonderful, we built an outdoor nature play area at our centre, and the kids couldn’t be happier!

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