Being in my field, I always pay attention to early learning centers and schools while driving around. Obviously, since I can only see the outside of the center from my car, I pay close attention to the design and makeup of the playgrounds.
I am amazed at how many school playgrounds have nothing …. natural. The playground equipment is metal and plastic. The toys are metal and plastic. The bicycles are metal and plastic. The ground is rubber. No part of nature is available at all when children go outside to play. No grass. No sand. No trees or plants. No wood. And, due to awnings that cover the entire playground, some of them allow no access to the sun.
Author Richard Louv introduced the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in 2005 with the publication of his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He coined the phrase to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from nature and it is not meant to be a medical diagnosis (although perhaps it should be).
In a time when children are staying inside attached to digital technology more than ever, the least schools can do is provide actual access to the natural outside world.
The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need. – Richard Louv
What can schools do? Bring back the sand box. Plant some grass. Provide loose parts made out of wood, rocks, sticks, shells, and really anything that comes from the outside world. Use wood mulch for the ground covering. Just think natural.
What can we do at home? The same thing.
We know children need to playing more, but let’s make sure they are also interacting with nature as well!
Here are some great blog posts to give some ideas for a natural playground.