Making Nature Play Areas That Work

image: Andrea Weber
image: Andrea Weber

Nature play has been in the news a lot in the past few years, but what does it really mean and how can you successfully introduce it into a public park setting if it is new to your organization?

Just about every type of media, from popular to professional, has covered nature play in the last few years. The benefits of nature play are well researched and the field is still growing. Those of us working on promoting nature play can thank Richard Louv and his brilliant marketing of the concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder” which, if you have read his best-selling book (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder), you will know is a made up term cleverly designed to get the attention of the public and of professionals, about how little time our children spend in nature and what developmental costs that is having on them. It worked.

So if we know that nature play is good, and we also know that children’s exposure to nature is plummeting, how do we get kids outside, exploring nature? How does a public park agency start opening up to and implementing new ideas on play areas to support this need? The following is a case study on a project which opened in 2012 in Minneapolis, the first project built by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (Park Board) to re-shape the typical play area to integrate more nature play and how it has re-shaped play area design moving forward.

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