Young Children and Nature: Outdoor Play and Development, Experiences Fostering Environmental Consciousness, And the Implications on Playground Design
Play is a pivotal part of a child’s life. Outdoor play fosters opportunities for creativity, imagination, social connections, and learned behaviors. There are two types of outdoor playscapes: natural and constructed. Natural playscapes offer sensory stimulation and physical diversity which is critical for childhood experiences outdoors. Through careful design, constructed playscapes can be greened to simulate natural playscapes. Greening is the integration of natural elements and processes in a playscape. Children’s direct social and individual experiences in nature in early to middle childhood during the “developmental window of opportunity” between the ages of three and twelve years help shape their environmental identity and guide their environmental actions. Outdoor play in greened playscapes has a positive effect on children’s social development, motor skill development, attention, and activity level. It also can provide children with experiences in naturalistic landscapes which could impact their morals, values and actions. School yards have the ability to assist in teaching children and act as a safe-haven where parental concerns for safety and risk do not inhibit play. Understanding the relationships between play, experiences in nature, environmental identity, the health, learning, attention, and development benefits of outdoor play, and the evolution of playscape design, a series of guidelines can be created to provide better childhood playscapes.