Natural Play


Resources for Natural Play Spaces

Click here to download a bibliography of natural play space resources.



Why Natural Play Space Matters - See for Yourself!

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Click here to view this video and others on CIF's new YouTube Channel!




There is growing interest in natural outdoor play spaces for children.  Some of it was started by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, published in 2005. He coined the term “nature deficit disorder” – a phrase that resonated with parents and educators across the country.

The research is compelling:

  • Physically strenuous play contributes to healthy brain development, enhances learning, and improves memory.
  • Play in nature-based play areas encourages more fantasy play and more egalitarian play among children of different ages and genders.
  • Some research indicates that on playgrounds dominated by play structures, children establish a social hierarchy based on physical competence – which is difficult for children who are shy, delayed in physical development, or just cautious.
  • Children who play freely in natural spaces have better motor coordination and better concentration.
  • In terms of hour-by-hour physical activity, the exercise that children get in unstructured play outdoors is more varied and less time-bound than in organized sports. 
  • The Center for Disease Control refers to unstructured outdoor play as the “magic bullet” for addressing childhood obesity.


Developing Evidence-Based Design:
Environmental interventions for healthy development of
young children in the outdoors

“[T]he large majority of licensed childcare centres offer minimum accommodations for active play beyond basic sand play areas and climbing structures…[P]laygrounds in general, and childcare play areas in particular, have turned into unchallenging and un-engaging spaces in the last 20 years.”

This article explores how the design, layout and attributes of the outdoor environment at childcare centers affect children’s behavior and physical activity levels. It stresses that the layout must be diverse in the number of natural or manufactured elements and designed to promote healthy growth and learning through such activities as running, climbing, balancing, jumping and etc.

Click here to read the article by Nilda G. Cosco as published in Open Space People Space.

If you like this article, check out their newest article, “Behavior Mapping: A Method for Linking Preschool Physical Activity and Outdoor Design” by Nilda G. Cosco. Robin C. Moore and Mohammed Z. Islam. Click here.


Five Natural Play Spaces in Boston

Click here for pictures!


The various studies are well-organized on the Children and Nature Network site below. For information, inspiration and immersion in various aspects of connecting children to nature:


New Pediatrics Journal Article Discusses the Importance of Play Space to Children's Health

Title: Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers
Author: Kristen A. Copeland, Susan N. Sherman, Cassandra A. Kendeigh, Heidi J. Kalkwarf, Brian E. Saelens
Publication: Pediatrics
Publisher: American Academy of Pediatrics
Date: Jan 4, 2012

Click here to read this publication.



INNOVATION: Scrapstore PlayPods

PlayPods are the result of a collaboration between two UK organizations, Children's Scrapstore and Michael Follett from OPAL and examines both the human and physical components of outdoor child care environments.

Their work found that the physical environment must contain a variety of landscapes, equipment and resources to encourage creativity, interaction, physical activity and communication, and that a key factor in supporting improvement was staff's ability to promote, support and value outdoor free play activity.

Visit the Scrapstore website for more information:
and OPAL at: