Nature Play Spaces – What They Are and How to Make One

Nature Play Spaces: What is a Nature Play Space?


The idea behind a nature play space is that, instead of the standard, cookie-cutter metal and plastic structures that make up the bulk of today’s playgrounds, people can incorporate the surrounding landscape and vegetation to bring nature to children’s daily outdoor play and learning environments.

Nature Play at Home

Children have a natural affinity toward nature. The National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative at North Carolina State University have created a guide for creating enticing outdoor play spaces as close as your backyard, patio, or balcony.

Nature Play at Home: A Guide for Boosting Children’s Healthy Development and Creativity shows parents and caregivers how they can turn an uninspired outdoor environment into an entertaining and exciting play area that will have kids racing to, “Go outside and play!”

Play in nature has different impacts at each stage of development. As children grow and develop, they need to confront new challenges at the edge of their known world that will constantly exercise newfound kills. This means a truly “developmentally appropriate” environment must be designed to offer a diversity of settings and uses to engage the developing child daily, constantly supporting the growth of new skills and knowledge at each developmental level.

For Infants – A comfortable place for parents and young children is to be out in nature together. Gardens with colors, textures, sounds, and smells stimulate the senses.

For Toddlers – A space for beginning steps of independent exploration. Encouraging walking and exploring nature using balance logs, sensory gardens, edible and wildlife gardens, and lawns for active play. Developing creativity and imagination, stimulating free play. Observing, naming, and discovering. Moving objects from place to place.

For Preschoolers – Places to support cognitive development, gross and fine motor development, and science learning. Social skills and dramatic play. Construction play, building, sifting, sorting, measuring, digging. Running, jumping, climbing, hopping, skipping, dancing. Weather, habitat and wildlife exploration and observation. Experimenting.

For School-Age Kids – Spaces to deepen understanding of plants, animals, and human interactions. Observing changes and effects of weather and seasons and how they relate to changes in the environment and other living forms. Gross motor exploration – climbing, running, balancing. Games with rules in open areas. Designing and building forts and animal habitats. Places to get away.