Nature Play

Logs, rocks, climbing boulders, when you see these elements in a playground, there is no doubt that this is a nature play.

Dr Dyment from the University of Tasmania said that: “Nature play is when children are provided with the opportunity to engage in unstructured play activities in outdoor settings where natural elements feature, such as logs, rocks and water, as opposed to conventional manufactured play equipment.”1

Compared with the past, children nowadays are more exposed to the same traditional amusement equipment. I grew up in the city. Whenever I heard my father tell me about his childhood playing in the fields, I don’t think that modern amusement facilities full of technology will make children happier than when my father was a kid. Although I don’t know the reason, the natural environment always makes me feel cordial. Whenever I come to the fields, woods, and grasslands, I always feel more relaxed in my spirit, as if I have some connection with nature. Perhaps this is because humans are also part of nature.

Image1. Children play in the nature

Interestingly, researchers have also discovered the relationship between playing in natural spaces and human mental health. For example, a Danish study found that children who grew up with the lowest levels of greenery had a risk of mental illness increased by up to 55%.2 Similarly, researchers in several European countries collected countries to conduct research and found that compared with people who were exposed to nature in childhood, adults who were in a low natural outdoor environment during childhood had significantly worse mental health.3 In addition, Canadian research has also found that centres with more natural elements have a significant positive impact on children’s play, social behaviour and mental health, especially in independent play and pro-social behaviour.4 These researches prove that we should encourage children to play more in nature.

“Children playing in the playground, instead of in nature, miss out on creative, imaginative play that is open-ended and unstructured.”5

The benefits of Nature play are beyond doubt. In Australia, this form of play is not uncommon. Many Australians and organizations are working to provide more children with opportunities for natural play. They believe very much in the benefits of outdoor nature activities for children. Although sometimes nature play also faces some obstacles and controversies. Some cautious parents worry about their children being injured in nature play, such as tripping over rocks or falling off balance beams or climbing rocks. Some parents prefer to let their children participate in more formal activities, such as swimming and piano.

Image2. Some parents worry about their children injured from nature play

Australia has no shortage of excellent nature play places. Braithwaite Park is located in the City of Vincent, WA. Comparing with typical pre-formed playgrounds, it provides more opportunities to contact nature. The play space incorporates mounds, tunnels, slides, water play and a nest swing to encourage children of all ages and abilities to be active, engaged and exploring. The design of the playground also takes into consideration plant elements. The integration of plants and game elements, such as the bamboo encasing the steel pods, strengthens children’s awareness of respect for plants.6

Image3. Braithwaite Park                               Image4. The bamboo encasing the steel pods

In general, nature play can benefit children from the connection with the natural environment. It can not only keep children healthy but also protect their mental health. It can also enhance children’s imagination and creativity.



  1. First Five Years. “The benefits of nature play for children.” February 27, 2020. Accessed April 29, 2021.

  1. Engemann, Kristine, Carsten Bøcker Pedersen, Lars Arge, Constantinos Tsirogiannis, Preben Bo Mortensen, and Jens-Christian Svenning. “Residential Green Space in Childhood Is Associated with Lower Risk of Psychiatric Disorders from Adolescence into Adulthood.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS116, no. 11 (2019): 5188–93.
  2. Preuß, Myriam, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Sandra Marquez, Marta Cirach, Payam Dadvand, Margarita Triguero-Mas, Christopher Gidlow, Regina Grazuleviciene, Hanneke Kruize, and Wilma Zijlema. “Low Childhood Nature Exposure Is Associated with Worse Mental Health in Adulthood.”International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16, no. 10 (2019): 1809–.
  3. Brussoni, Mariana, Takuro Ishikawa, Sara Brunelle, and Susan Herrington. “Landscapes for Play: Effects of an Intervention to Promote Nature-Based Risky Play in Early Childhood Centres.” Journal of Environmental Psychology54 (2017): 139–50.
  4. First Five Years. “The benefits of nature play for children.” February 27, 2020. Accessed April 29, 2021.

  1. Australia Institute of Landscape Architects. “Braithwaite Park Nature Play.” Accessed April 29, 2021.


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