Natural Play

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To what extent can natural play environments be designed and implemented in the UK?


‘Natural Play is a fundamental aspect of a child’s development and physical exercise. Through play, a child’s personality develops and they gain a greater control of mind and body. Play has opportunities for social, ethical and emotional development.

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Environmental based play initiates instinctive play as well as self-reliance, confidence and maturity [1] Play is used as a medium for translating one child’s personal culture to another, this quote portrays findings from the psychologist Arnaud in 1984 [2] ‘ I really believe there is something about nature – that when you are in it , it makes you realise that there are far larger things at work than yourself….Being in nature can be the a way to escape without fully leaving the world.’ [3]

Landscape architects have recently been given the responsibility to design ‘natural play’ schemes under the 2006 Play England initiatives which have provided the largest ever national investment in natural play. [4] Under these initiatives, the traditional concept of equipped play areas has been disregarded and instead, a greater emphasis is given to creating ‘naturalistic’ play environments for different age groups. Consequently, landscape architects have now a greater role in the development of play areas rather than the installation of equipment for play solutions. However, there are constraints which determine the extent to which landscape architects can give a ‘natural play’ experience. This study will explore and review recent projects in order to evaluate the success of such schemes. The research for this study is based upon the author’s experience working on Newcastle City Council’s Play England’s Play Pathfinder schemes during the summer of 2009 as well as designing and building an aerial walkway on a woodland adventure trail which was developed on a farm open to the public. [5], [6]

The study will be informed by examples from published literature, studies and information from play companies. Firsthand experience of the subject gained through designing, building and managing natural play areas as well as observations on regular visits to Skelton Grange Environmental Centre (Leeds) and during a field trip to Denmark (2009) will also be used.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the study is to identify the principles behind the planning and design of natural play areas, as well as discussing constraints which affect the implementation. Factors that affect the design of natural play areas will be discussed; childhood development, social context, aspects of the site, management and expenditure as well as possible avenues which have not been considered under the Play England initiative. In doing this, it is hoped to determine to what extent ‘natural play’ environments can be designed and implemented in England.

What is ‘natural play’?

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