Natural playgrounds are gaining immense popularity as a sustainable and captivating alternative to traditional playgrounds. These playgrounds incorporate natural elements such as climbing boulders, fallen logs, and plants, providing children with opportunities for unstructured play and a connection with nature. However, like any design project, natural playgrounds can sometimes encounter common mistakes that hinder the overall play experience and compromise the safety of children. In this article, we will delve into some of these mistakes made by playground designers when they start designing natural playgrounds and offer insights on how to avoid them.

Emphasizing Safety:
Ensuring the safety of children is a primary concern in playground design, regardless of whether it is natural or traditional. Occasionally, playground designers may overlook or underestimate the importance of incorporating sufficient safety measures into their designs. These measures include appropriate surfacing materials, cushioning beneath natural playground equipment, and addressing potential hazards like sharp edges or tripping risks.

To avoid this mistake, designers must conduct thorough safety assessments during the planning phase. Seeking guidance from experts in natural playground safety can help identify potential risks and ensure compliance with safety standards.

Promoting Accessibility:
Accessibility is another crucial aspect that is sometimes overlooked in playground design when trying to design a natural playground. Designers may unintentionally create barriers for children with disabilities if they do not consider inclusive design principles. Natural play equipment and pathways should be designed to accommodate individuals with diverse physical abilities, ensuring that everyone can fully participate and enjoy the playground.

Incorporating ramps, smooth pathways, and inclusive play equipment that can be accessed by children of all abilities are essential steps in promoting inclusivity in natural playgrounds.

Considering Age Appropriateness:
Designers must take into account the wide age range of children who will utilize the space. Neglecting to provide age-appropriate play opportunities can either bore older children or pose a safety risk for younger ones. Designers must strike a balance by incorporating play features that cater to different age groups and developmental stages.

Maintenance Considerations:
Natural playgrounds require ongoing maintenance and care to ensure they remain safe and enjoyable. Designers may overlook this aspect, resulting in the gradual deterioration of play equipment, pathways, and natural elements over time. Natural playground equipment can last longer and be more durable than traditional metal and plastic equipment but the lack of proper care and maintenance can lead to safety hazards and diminish the overall appeal of the natural playground.

To avoid this mistake, designers should collaborate closely with natural playground experts, landscape architects and maintenance personnel to develop a comprehensive maintenance plan. Regular inspections, repairs, and replacement of worn-out elements should be incorporated into the plan to ensure the longevity of the playground.

Authentic Connection with Nature:
Ironically, some playground designs fail to effectively connect children with nature. Overemphasis on man-made structures or improper integration of natural elements can limit the authentic experience of being in a natural environment. Playgrounds should strive to incorporate a wide variety of natural materials, plants, and open spaces to stimulate children’s imagination and encourage exploration of the natural world.

Designing a natural playground requires careful consideration of safety, accessibility, age appropriateness, maintenance, and the overall connection with nature. By avoiding the common mistakes mentioned above, designers can create engaging and inclusive spaces where children can freely explore, play, and develop their physical and cognitive abilities. A well-designed natural playground can become a source of joy and inspiration while fostering a deep appreciation for the natural world.

Woodbriar Natural Playground

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