As a landscape designer, I’m endlessly fascinated with outdoor spaces. How do we make them accommodate our need to grow food? To entertain? To support native wildlife? Rainwater? Beneficial insects? The list goes on. But my latest fascination is all child’s play – or rather, nature-based play.
Nature-based play is an emerging concept in the world of design that encourages open-ended, creative play with natural objects and materials. It gives children the opportunity to learn a bit more about natural world around them. It also allows them to test their own limits and practice using their own judgement. For example, they need to decide “is this rock too big for me to climb?” or “can I jump from this high?”
I recently hiked with my family around Silver Falls State Park in Oregon and thoroughly enjoyed their Nature Play area. The play objects there are on a “park scale” – big and sturdy. But there are so many good seeds here for what you could do in your own space to incorporate some nature-play.
Each area had it’s own theme. In the bird play area, there were metal boxes placed on stumps where kids had been making little “nests” or collecting other found treasures.
The bird area also featured a very large, metal nest. Much like a treehouse, this could be a real cozy spot for kids to gather.
Not only did the park have a metal nest, they have a fun ever-changing nest made with large branches. This is the kind of thing that could fit really well into the backyard. It’s low-low-low cost and children can design it, destroy, and rebuild over and over again.
In the bear-themed area, a couple massive logs were hollowed out. Inside was a cozy cave perfect for exploring. We might not all have access to logs this big for our own backyards, but I love the idea of making “hideout” spaces – a place where parents can still supervise from a distance, but kids feel hidden.
The cougar play area included large boulders that Juniper absolutely loved to climb. All those folks with a sloped backyard take note! Some rocks were big and others were smaller. She very quickly found her way to a route of easy to climb stones.
Stumps were cut at varying heights and Juniper used them as a jumping pads – going from one to the other. I was surprised that she showed a good amount of restraint in knowing which ones were okay to jump off and which one she deemed too high to leap from.
We had a blast along this trail and Juniper wasn’t the only one playing! I found myself climbing through the hollow logs more than once, joining her at the top of the rock pile and sitting with her in the bird’s nest. The designer in me is ignited by the concept of nature-play and I can’t wait to see where this road leads!
Check out the following links to read more about Silver Falls’ Nature Play area. It’s at the north end and there is a sign for it from the main road. It’s near the group camping sites:
- Designing the Nature Play Trail
- Silver Falls Trail Map (Nature Area not yet marked on the map, but it’s near the Group Camping sites)
- Silver Falls State Park (not much info on the Nature Area, but general trail/park descriptions)