We have many natural playscapes within an hour drive of our area. Here are a few that I enjoy taking my children to. Seeing the diversity and variety of natural play areas reminds me there are many options. Natural areas in our own yards can be enhanced to have nature play spots like this as well. I included links to natural play areas in our region and resources that are available for developing natural playscapes below. Check it out!
Early Learning Center at Granger Community Church. This is one of my "happy" places!
Mill Street Park in Goshen
Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart
Adventure Path at Wellfield Botanical Gardens
Chippewa Nature Center--this is about 3 hour aways, but is neat to see how they did their storage and integrate learning outside their classroom. Also, I visited in winter! They still get out regularly!
Railyway and Children's Nature Adventure Garden at Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Pre
I've even done what I call a mobile nature play area, bringing nature activities to a library or other space to make nature play more portable.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention nature as a powerful natural playscape. Some of greatest memories are just playing in nature while we are out and about. These are a couple of fun pictures of nature's jungle gym!
I really like Natural Play & Learning Places. The National Wildlife Federation highlights 12 natural learning spaces, with one even by the Indiana Dunes. I'm looking forward to a road trip!
Nuts & Bolts Playgrounds Christine Whitmire has a local consulting business on natural playgrounds. She is GREAT! She is the major force behind the natural play area at Granger Community Church's Early Learning Center and the director there as well. With a great science and education background, she is a go to resource in the area.
This is a Nature Play at Home guidebook by the Be Out There campaign and the Natural Learning Initiative. I call this eye candy! It has many options of ways to include natural play elements in your own backyard with tips on changing with the seasons, introducing new elements, and ways to enhance nature play in various backyards. While geared for home use, it definitely has applications and ideas for larger playscapes or a center.
I liked this Designing Natural Playscapes webinar from National Recreation and Parks Association. I liked hearing the different options and how places went through the design process. Things like accessibility, getting buy in, maintenance, playground guidelines were addressed. One group only spent about $500 (and I actually preferred the space to the more expensive option), yet had lots of donated time, tools, and wood available. I really recommend this if you are thinking about something with nature playscapes. Another option is a play path. Here is another webinar from NRPA on pathways for play.
Here is a great article that explores the impact nature play has on the environment. The author cites studies that say nature can handle the play of children and that it helps build those relationships with nature.
This is another free resource, looking at the benefits of natural play, our own memories of playing in nature, the research on nature play, and the emotions and safety of natural play.
I would also recommend the Growing Up Wild workshop. While not directly nature play related, it is an early childhood curriculum organized by natural themes and topics with plenty of nature play activities to use in the natural playscapes.
Nature Explore has great resources. Here is a blog post on a training I went to on their outdoor classrooms/playscapes. They have a book that is around $20. It is small, but I appreciated the general guidance and planning to help me think through the process of putting in an outdoor classroom or natural playscape.
This PlayScapes resource has some free plans for building aspects (like a beehive) and for plants to include in play areas.
Kaboom has good resources on finding funding, plans for some elements that might be included, and helps for getting the additional expertise and human power needed to get the job done.
I also have Pinterest boards of ideas I've collected. One is Natural Playscapes and another is WNC Natural Playscapes specific with inspiration for a play area at a local nature center. There are many options and resources out there!
There are also several companies selling items to go with natural play areas. Here are a few:
Nature Explore In addition to supplies for sale, they have entries of the certified playgrounds through their system.
The Natural Playground While they sell things, they also have many articles and other materials to help in the process of planning and implementing a play area, including helpful research.
Landscape Structures They have a line of "natural" themed playground equipment. Some still looks like a playground to me; however, I like some of the elements like the hollow log or fossil dig as freestanding equipment.