Benefits of Natural Playgrounds: What Is Nature Play?

What is Nature Play?

Nature play involves engaging with and within nature, using natural elements like plants, trees, water, dirt, sand, and stones. Typically, this play occurs outdoors, where children can experience the breezes, fresh air, changing weather, and the warmth of the sun. This type of play stimulates all the senses through sights, sounds, textures, scents, and even tastes, while also challenging children’s physical movements in outdoor spaces. Natural playground equipment encourages children to engage in outdoor free play, promoting a social environment and fostering crucial social and collaborative skills.

Dr. Suzanne Quinn, Manager at the KOMPAN Play Institute, delves into the benefits of nature play and the essence of natural playgrounds.

"Natural playgrounds significantly boost children's physical activity levels, encouraging more dynamic and energetic play compared to traditional playgrounds"
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What are Natural Playgrounds?

A natural playground integrates nature into play, allowing children to interact with natural elements and engage in diverse physical activities. These playgrounds foster social interaction and hands-on learning. Key features include:

  • Varied Movement and Challenges: Utilizes natural materials like tree stumps, wooden huts, and climbers for sensory experiences that stimulate learning and imagination.

  • Incorporating Natural Elements: Includes non-toxic plants, trees, and structures for climbing, swinging, and balancing.

  • Transparent Structures: Rope climbing frames and open designs allow children to see their surroundings and expand their view of the landscape.

These playgrounds contrast traditional environments by making free play an integral part of the experience.

Smiling girl at playground rope bridge at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Why Are Natural Playgrounds Important?

Why are natural playgrounds gaining popularity? Natural playgrounds, built with elements like wood, stone, and plants, offer unique benefits for children compared to a traditional playground. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of natural playgrounds and how these nature-inspired spaces enhance the development of our children.

  • Natural playgrounds, crafted from materials like wood and creatively integrated as part of the landscape, provide a sensory-rich environment that fosters physical, cognitive, and emotional development in children.

  • Natural playgrounds enable children to move freely and creatively around the environment, allowing them to explore, run, jump, climb, crawl, touch, smell, and more. These playgrounds encourage active play and creativity, promoting better fitness levels and helping children develop problem-solving skills through unstructured and imaginative play.

  • Natural playgrounds foster environmental awareness, teaching children the importance of caring for the environment while ensuring that play spaces are accessible to children of all abilities.

A pond with wooden playground and a mountain in the background.

Benefits of Natural Playgrounds

Natural playgrounds provide a multitude of benefits that surpass the conventional play experience. By incorporating natural elements, these playgrounds provide a rich, sensory environment that encourages active and imaginative play, helping children to grow and learn. Nature inspired playgrounds promote creativity, open-ended play, and new forms of play in a safe and unstructured environment.

Natural playgrounds entice children and families outdoors, encouraging prolonged and active play, which is crucial for child development. These playgrounds offer several significant benefits:

  • Environmental awareness - Familiarizing children with the local ecosystem.

  • Emotional development - Instilling appreciation and care for the natural world.

  • Cognitive development - Reducing stress and enhancing focus.

  • Physical development - Supporting active physical movements that are not possible indoors.

Designing a Nature Playground for Child Development

Designing a nature playground requires careful playground planning that prioritizes the benefits these spaces can offer children. By integrating natural elements and focusing on a variety of play values, designers can create play environments that foster physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. Nature inspired playground equipment provides children with the opportunity to interact with the natural world, learn about the environment, and develop an appreciation for nature.

Tips for Designing Nature Play Areas:

1. Create a Welcoming Atmosphere: Ensure the site is safe, has good sightlines, and is interesting and exciting for all visitors.

2. Engage the Senses: Incorporate elements that can be touched, smelled, and seen.

3. Diverse Elements and Structures: Encourage exploration and creativity by including varied natural elements and play structures that offer challenges suitable for different age groups and abilities.

Key Developmental Benefits to Consider

Physical Development

Incorporating elements like logs, boulders, and climbing structures encourages active play, improving children’s motor skills, balance, and coordination.

Cognitive Growth

A natural play space stimulates problem-solving and creativity. Features such as sand pits, water play areas, and natural loose parts (like sticks and leaves) invite children to explore, experiment, and engage in imaginative play.

Playground Equipment And Consultation in Tampa, Florida

Emotional Well-being

Exposure to natural environments has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in children. Play areas with sensory gardens, quiet nooks, and natural sounds can provide a calming effect and enhance emotional resilience.

nature playground at a preschool in Germany

Environmental Awareness

By engaging with natural materials and living plants, children develop a deeper appreciation for nature. This fosters a sense of environmental responsibility from a young age.

Essential Nature Play Design Elements

Robinia natural hardwood used for playgrounds

Natural Materials

Use timber, recycled plastic, and natural ground covers like wood chips or sand to minimize environmental impact and provide authentic sensory experiences.

wooden robinia sensory playgrounds play panels tables and games hero image

Sensory Stimulation

Incorporate a variety of textures, scents, and sounds through elements like aromatic herb gardens, water features, and rustling leaves to engage all the senses.

Open Spaces

Ensure there are areas for free and unstructured play, allowing children to run, invent games, and interact socially in a flexible and dynamic environment.

Inclusivity & Accessibility

Design with accessibility in mind, using ramps, accessible play structures, and sensory-rich elements that cater to children of all abilities.

By focusing on these benefits and design principles, natural playgrounds can become vibrant, engaging spaces that support the holistic development of children while fostering a deep connection with the natural world. Nature inspired playgrounds promote motor skill development, sensory activities, creativity, learning about nature, and encourage children to engage with the natural environment through play equipment and elements inspired by nature.

The design of a natural playground necessitates a considerate approach that takes into account the needs of all children and the incorporation of the environment. By choosing a cohesive theme, such as a fairy garden or a dinosaur-themed playground, designers can create an engaging and immersive play experience.

The selection of materials is also crucial, as it impacts the playground’s safety, durability, and maintenance.

Wooden Playground Freestanding Equipment

How-To: Choosing Natural Materials

The choice of materials in nature playgrounds is a reflection of their commitment to sustainability and environmental harmony. By favoring natural materials like timber, recycled playground equipment, boulders, logs, etc., over synthetic materials, playground designers can minimize environmental impact while creating safe and durable play spaces. These natural elements not only add aesthetic appeal but also provide children with sensory experiences.

Moreover, the use of natural materials like engineered wood fiber for playground surfacing ensures safety and ADA compliance, making the playground accessible to children with disabilities. This attention to detail in material selection is what makes natural playgrounds stand out, offering a play experience that is both environmentally conscious and inclusive.

How-To: Incorporating Sensory Elements

Natural playgrounds are not just visually appealing; they are a feast for all the senses. Incorporating diverse textures, shapes, and materials, these playgrounds provide a rich tapestry of sensory experiences that are crucial for cognitive development. Natural play spaces encourage creativity, social interaction, and physical activities by incorporating elements and textures from nature, which provide opportunities for unstructured play and promote inclusivity for children of all skill levels and abilities. Children engage in a holistic learning process as they touch, feel, and interact with various natural objects, from the smoothness of pebbles to the roughness of bark, enhancing their sensory awareness and fine motor skills.

The inclusion of sensory gardens filled with aromatic herbs, rustling leaves, and vibrant flowers adds layers of sensory stimulation, inviting children to smell, touch, and even taste the natural world. This multisensory approach to play helps children to forge deeper connections with their environment, enriching their play experiences and supporting their overall development.

How-To: Creating Open Spaces

The design of a natural playground is not complete without the inclusion of open spaces. Natural playgrounds enable children to move freely and creatively around the environment, allowing them to explore, run, jump, climb, crawl, touch, smell, and more. These areas are essential for fostering free and unstructured play, which is critical for children to develop their creativity and social skills. Open spaces allow children the freedom to run, invent games, and engage with their peers in a relaxed and unbounded environment.

Moreover, open spaces within natural playgrounds can be transformed by children’s imaginations into anything from a bustling city to an alien landscape. By providing wooden obstacle course elements, playground architects can encourage children to develop through challenging yet fun activities. This flexibility in play options is one of the key benefits of natural playgrounds, as it allows children to express themselves freely and develop their problem-solving abilities.

Popular Nature Playground Equipment

Agility Trail 9


Agility Trail 9

6+ Years

62 m2

12 Users

Choosing Natural Playground Equipment

When choosing nature playground equipment and elements that will endure and continue to captivate children, our options are an outstanding pick. Renowned for our high-quality materials and innovative design, our playgrounds are built to improve the physical, cognitive, creative, and social/emotional skills of children. Our commitment to using recycled materials also demonstrates our dedication to sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Our playgrounds are not just designed for children; we also cater to teenagers and adults, promoting fitness and outdoor activity across all age groups. The versatility of our equipment, from the playground tower structures GIANTS that spark the imagination to inclusive fitness solutions that welcome users of all abilities, makes us a leading choice for communities looking to create engaging and enduring play spaces.

Top natural playground choices for you

 Pirate themed playground ship in Borgholm, Sweden

Borgholm Pirate Playground, Sweden

Girls playing on natural playground in forest at Tucker Ranch

Tucker Ranch, United States

Wooden playground castle with boy climbing up a climbing wall at Porvoo

Porvoo, Finland

Wooden playground structure at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, United Sates

Meet the KOMPAN Play Institute

jeanette fich jespersen from kompan play institute

Jeanette Fich Jespersen

Head of KOMPAN Play Institute

MA in Nordic and Anglosaxon Philology

Suzanne Quinn

Manager, KOMPAN Play Institute USA

PhD in Early childhood learning

maria from kompan play institute

Maria Ross Larsen

Research Project Manager, KOMPAN Play Institute

MSc & BA in Market Anthropology


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  2. "8 Ways to Encourage Nature Play in Playgrounds." KOMPAN,

  3. University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "Natural playgrounds more beneficial to children, inspire more play, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2012. <>.

  4. University of British Columbia. "Spending time in nature promotes early childhood development." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 October 2021. <>.

  5. Luchs, Annika, and Maren Fikus. "Differently Designed Playgrounds and Preschooler’s Physical Activity Play." Early Child Development and Care, vol. 188, no. 3, 2016, pp. 281–295,