Is Natural Play Here to Stay?
The Government’s pledge to improve and create more play areas for 8-13 year olds with a cash injection of £235 billion last year is a positive step forward but have the play purists got it right?
The Government has stipulated that to obtain this funding, Councils are required to fulfil criteria on how their play areas should function to serve their local community. In particular the play area is obligated to feature a high proportion of natural play elements; so boulders, mud, sand, hills, mounds and tunnels, with some ‘prescribed play’ – structural play equipment such as swings, roundabouts and slides.
Play purists supporting the ‘natural play’ movement would argue that a play area should only consist of natural play elements but surely swings, roundabouts and slides, as well as having a fundamental place in terms of sociological/physical development, act as a signpost to children that this is a space to play in.
Stuart Wetherell, Wicksteed Playscapes said, “Natural play is not a new concept for Wicksteed Playscapes which has been incorporating natural landscapes and undulations into its play areas for over 80 years. As far back as the early 1900’s we were building embankment slides and using contours.
We do welcome the move to more ‘natural play’ elements as it gives us permission to be more creative within a space, something we have always endorsed and a move away from typical square-fenced playgrounds offering little imagination.
There is a misconception that play equipment companies are purely manufacturers but we have years of understanding children’s play behind us and offer complete play area design, from choice of play equipment to surfacing and landscape design.”
Of course, boulders, mounds and tunnels are great fun to explore but a balanced approach to the play area is far better. Combining an equal mix of ‘natural play’ elements with innovative play equipment is essential for a balanced and fun approach to play. Children are natural thrill seekers and the feeling of swinging or whizzing round with g-force cannot be rivalled!
Most parents, carers and educators agree that outdoor play is a natural and critical part of healthy childhood – we need to push the boundaries of the ‘cotton-wool culture’ that has arisen over the years. Through outdoor play activities, children learn some of the skills necessary for their childhood and adult lives including social competence, problem solving, creative thinking and safety skills. Research shows that children do still have a love of playing outdoors but they need that love re-ignited with the space, time and permission to do so.
Professor Rachel Davey, Director of the Centre for Sport & Exercise Research, Staffordshire University says, “Research shows that between the ages of 3 and 12, a child’s body experiences its greatest physical growth as demonstrated by children’s urge to run, climb and jump in outdoor spaces.
Such physical movements and play activities enhance muscle growth and support the growth of the child’s heart and lungs as well as all other vital organs essential for normal physical development.”
With play now being viewed as vital for a child’s healthy mental and physical health and development, we must ensure that all children are able to frequently access safe outdoor play areas – play areas that offer a whole range of play experiences from running round boulders to swinging upside down.
With more campaigns such as National Play Days and Governmental funding for play – it is all a positive way forward for this and the next generation if we take a balanced approach.
For further information visit Wicksteed Playscapes www.wicksteed.co.uk or call 01536 410633.