“At Rising Oaks Early Learning Ontario, we firmly hold the belief that play, in all its diverse and delightful expressions, is the cornerstone of early learning.”

 To further explore this conviction, we engaged with team members from various Rising Oaks campuses, where our natural playgrounds have been installed, to discuss their perspectives on outdoor play, natural playgrounds, and the far-reaching influence of nature and the outdoors on children.

Designing playgrounds that incorporate natural elements and materials has become increasingly popular in recent years and for good reason. These “natural playgrounds” offer a range of benefits that traditional playgrounds, with their plastic structures and bright colors, cannot replicate. First and foremost, natural playgrounds provide a sensory-rich environment where children can tap into their curiosity and imagination. From climbing over boulders to digging in the dirt to balancing on logs, natural playgrounds offer opportunities for kids to explore, experiment, and take risks in a safe and supportive environment.

Another advantage of designing natural playgrounds is that they encourage physical activity and fitness in a way that other playgrounds may not. Instead of relying on fixed equipment and structures, natural playgrounds require kids to engage their bodies in a variety of movements, such as running, jumping, and balancing, which can improve physical coordination, balance, and strength. In addition, the unpredictability and variability of natural playgrounds require kids to use their proprioceptive and vestibular systems, which helps to develop important neural pathways related to balance and spatial awareness.

Finally, natural playgrounds have been shown to have positive impacts on children’s mental health and well-being. Studies have found that exposure to nature can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve overall mood and resilience. By providing a space where children can connect with nature, explore the natural world, and engage in open-ended play, natural playgrounds offer a unique and valuable opportunity to support children’s mental health and social-emotional development.

The benefits of natural playground designs are numerous and wide-ranging. By prioritizing the use of natural elements and materials, these playgrounds offer children a sensory-rich, physically challenging, and emotionally supportive environment in which to explore, learn, and grow. Whether it’s climbing a tree, building a fort out of branches, or simply digging in the dirt, natural playgrounds inspire a sense of wonder and joy that can be difficult to replicate in other settings and offer a lasting impact on children’s health and well-being.

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