Natural Play


To what extent can natural play environments be designed and implemented in the UK?


‘Natural Play is a fundamental aspect of a child’s development and physical exercise. Through play, a child’s personality develops and they gain a greater control of mind and body. Play has opportunities for social, ethical and emotional development. Environmental based play initiates instinctive play as well as self-reliance, confidence and maturity [1] Play is used as a medium for translating one child’s personal culture to another, this quote portrays findings from the psychologist Arnaud in 1984 [2] ‘ I really believe there is something about nature – that when you are in it , it makes you realise that there are far larger things at work than yourself….Being in nature can be the a way to escape without fully leaving the world.’ [3]

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Landscape architects have recently been given the responsibility to design ‘natural play’ schemes under the 2006 Play England initiatives which have provided the largest ever national investment in natural play. [4] Under these initiatives, the traditional concept of equipped play areas has been disregarded and instead, a greater emphasis is given to creating ‘naturalistic’ play environments for different age groups. Consequently, landscape architects have now a greater role in the development of play areas rather than the installation of equipment for play solutions. However, there are constraints which determine the extent to which landscape architects can give a ‘natural play’ experience. This study will explore and review recent projects in order to evaluate the success of such schemes. The research for this study is based upon the author’s experience working on Newcastle City Council’s Play England’s Play Pathfinder schemes during the summer of 2009 as well as designing and building an aerial walkway on a woodland adventure trail which was developed on a farm open to the public. [5], [6]

The study will be informed by examples from published literature, studies and information from play companies. Firsthand experience of the subject gained through designing, building and managing natural play areas as well as observations on regular visits to Skelton Grange Environmental Centre (Leeds) and during a field trip to Denmark (2009) will also be used.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the study is to identify the principles behind the planning and design of natural play areas, as well as discussing constraints which affect the implementation. Factors that affect the design of natural play areas will be discussed; childhood development, social context, aspects of the site, management and expenditure as well as possible avenues which have not been considered under the Play England initiative. In doing this, it is hoped to determine to what extent ‘natural play’ environments can be designed and implemented in England.

What is ‘natural play’?

Before discussing the design of ‘natural play’ schemes it is important to define ‘natural play’ and how it has evolved. Natural play provides play opportunities in a changing natural landscape. Natural play can enable children to feel more confident in themselves, often revealing their deeper feelings and sharing of their ideas. Natural play has many invaluable qualities that cannot be taught through structured learning activities; the theories of natural play are robustly supported by researchers from varied disciplines including psychology, education, philosophy, anthropology and recreation. [7]

The evolution of natural play spaces

The essence of children’s play has changed little over the centuries. The links between the play patterns of un-modernised and developed societies have been shown to be very similar. For example ‘!Kung’ children in the Kalahari desert use an object, in their case the sheath of a banana leaf, to symbolise a baby and these mothering games are similar to those played by children in developed societies who play with dolls. [8] However, adults controlling children’s lives have imposed a series of changing theories as to how they should play.

During the age of enlightenment when all sorts of theories were being examined Rousseau (1712-1778), the French philosopher, valued the importance of good experiences to mental development in children. When he heard of children forced to read and not play he wrote “those who would rob these little innocents of the joys that pass so quickly’, he went on to say, ‘We must never forget all this should be play, the easy and voluntarily control of movement which nature demands of them, the art of varying their games to make them pleasanter without the least bit of constraint. To a child of 10 or 12 work or play are all one’, with the proviso that the activity of play is ‘with the charm of freedom’. [9]

The case studies for this essay have been chosen following observations of natural play schemes during 2008 – 2009. The sites cover the fundamental aspects and current trends of natural play used by after school clubs, Play England, Natural England initiatives, and environmental learning projects.

Play pathfinders and play builder – explain

Skelton Grange

Skelton Grange Environment Centre, Leeds is located 5 km from Leeds City Centre (figs.). The site is a gentle sloping 8 Acre site with woodland, open meadows, lawns and riverside walks. The site is located in a large industrial area on the periphery of Leeds City Centre and is leased from the National Grid. The project is an innovative, award winning, environmental education project that aims to bring alive the issues surrounding sustainable development. [15]The project is hoped to help people develop an understanding and appreciation of the environment by educating its visitors on ways to safeguard our future. The scheme funded by BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) aims to use the Eco Centre and surrounding landscape to support a wide range of activities working mainly with children, young people and adults on school trips, play schemes, community groups as well as teenage individuals.

The site is used for education and training sessions, practical conservation, and BTVC volunteer development. BTCV staff at the centre work with young people and adults, schools, play schemes, community groups and individuals on developing an understanding & appreciation of their environment, and their role in safeguarding its future. The children who visit annually are from inner city West Yorkshire primary schools. These children gain many valuable experiences of environmental play which can be absorbed and provide inspiration for similar forms of play at home or school. The most striking issue which was observed on the site was the willingness to the children o learn and play in a rugged natural environment as many of the inner city children have a very limited horizons when it comes to getting out of town.

Broom House Farm ‘Adventure trail’

Broom House Farm ‘Adventure Trail’ is Located in the Durham countryside approximately 6 miles east of Durham City (figs.). The adventure trail is set on land belonging to a diverse ‘organic farm’ enterprise. The surrounding landscape has a significant impact on the adventure trail as it is visible from the trail and relates to educational material within the trail. The woodland where the adventure trail is located is predominantly coniferous however there are many mature broadleaved species in the woodland. Most of the coniferous woodland was established over 50 years ago when the land was set aside by the farming tenants after it was open cast for coal. The woodland is very diverse in flora and fauna. The trail is open to the public and has approximately 4,000 public visitors, 60 school parties per annum. These include visits through a recent Natural England initiative (name it) . There are also visitors from institutions for people with special needs. The wood offers a wide range of natural based learning activities and many outlets for un-structured natural play. The site has been designed to enable a sense of discovery for visiting children, consequently giving a strong bond with the environment.

The site is unique in the area and proves very successful with all users, the blend of natural play, education and playing within a woodland environment strongly complement each other. Visitors with special needs gain special interaction with nature when visiting. The bonding with nature is also highly significant for children visiting the site from deprived inner city areas of Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland and Durham.

During my experience as education/safety officer at Broom House Farm (2008), I supervised and carried out educational activities with the children. This was an important experience for me as over a period of time I was able to observe the children using the natural play setting. During the summer of 2009 I designed and helped build new additions to the adventure trail including a 100m raised board walk and other play zones (figs.).

Denmark Junk Playground

The play site is located in Fredriksberg, a central district of Copenhagen, Denmark. The site consists of a large clearing in a Beech woodland. The perimeter has mature trees which overhang much of the site. Shrubs have been integrated next to structures built by the children . This unique ‘Junk Playground’ also caters as an after school club for the adjoining school. The site offers a safe environment for children to be supervised from a distance, allowing them to construct a variety of custom built play equipment from shelters to play structures. This resource is run by adults employed by the council and funding from parents, all staff have a degree in some form of child development or education. The facility is also open at weekends when it is supervised by parents. The site is a huge success and is very popular.

The value of this resource to the local community is very high; children are left at the after school club everyday so they have to be very imaginative in the playspace to keep them occupied. The outcome of what the children design and build is usually well implemented. The community involvement of many parents also helps safeguard the success of the site on weekends. The site has an importance policy which allows children to construct play equipment, this is a good example of allowing risk in the play environment.

It was interesting to observe the competence of children as they explained what they had built and the construction methods learnt. More importantly the children explained that everyone uses the tools in a responsible manner, consequently there are few injuries.

ADD? Children are constantly encouraged to be creative within the education system. Depending on their age many have a drive to create constructions. Through natural play, natural materials can be used to create personal play equipment. This adds a further dimension to the benefits of natural play. When children construct anything they feel more confident of another intuitive childhood process.

Within the Danish junk playground, children are issued with and allowed to bring their own construction tools such as hammers, nails, saws and other materials to construct play equipment from the abundance of materials provided. These materials include wood, block paving and other recycled materials. The quality of the constructions made is inspected by adults for strength and any other irregularities. Through this process errors can be corrected and the equipment passed as being safe. The individuals responsible for the construction then shows their play mates and they share their special creations with each other and revise there constructions and equipment with a greater knowledge of construction. The constructions are often nestled and integrated within site, composed of mature trees and shrubs. The success of the natural environment is the popularity of building these structures and games within the greener areas of the site.

Fagan refer to sketch book for his opinions and feelings about the thriving site from a childs perspective?


A scheme in place in Fredriksberg, Copenhagen, Denmark were by children build natural play environments adding a different dimension to natural play, combining out of school care and natural play recreation. The results of this scheme is of huge significance to my study and is very popular on the streets of Copenhagen. Parents pick children up from the centre up to as late as 5 o clock. The children are fed with healthy meals which they often cook themselves, children are then free to roam the site playing and constructing play spaces. The children are issued with hammers, nails, wood, hard landscaping materials. The teaching staff all have degrees orientated around primary and youth education. The centre accommodates for ages up to 15 Years of age. There is a strong drive within Play England Guidelines to accommodate teenagers, in particular girls within natural play schemes within Britain. The site in Fritsberg is adjacent to a large inner city school so the visiting children have a quick transition between the two spaces. This could be more common as schools both within the inner cities and rural areas have a wider perimeter to their site with scope to expand, typically a site composed of wasteland grasslands, gravel, mud and pockets of trees with huge potential for transformation to create natural play spaces to socialise and spend countless hours in order to develop. The possibility for making the most of school yard sites would be of double affect as playground play is one few occasions children get to play in a safe environment. If developed playgrounds were open to the community more and not as segregated. As much of the school site in un used within the school timetable with limited Sport, Outdoor play and education it would make sense to make more use of these spaces as natural play sites. One of the biggest bonus’s to the scheme adjacent to the school in Fritsberg is the lack of Adult intervention. The children when playing are left outside to their own devices yet could seek help, if needed from staff who located themselves near to the building entrance.

Newcastle play sites

Location Distance from city etc / Add type of landscape, fields, water, woodland and surrounding area flat, hills etc? These play sites have been identified by the council to be improved, using funding from Play England. These playgrounds up graded from a play pathfinder to play builder, Some of these sites have been completed

ADD Observations not mentioned in table. How children use it. What you thought was good about it.

The activities carried out in these environments have many benefits enhancing children’s ability to recognise and appreciate the natural play environment. Sketches of the natural settings within these sites have been included. The natural qualities deployed create stimulating surroundings with opportunities for more imaginative play and wonder. Adults may view nature as a surrounding for the child’s activities. However children seem to view a natural play space as a sensory experience and a place where they can interact within a fantastical environment. Children develop their imagination continually through everyday experiences, which is essential in the child’s development as a well rounded individual within society.

Why is natural play important today?

Natural play environments offer a diversity of natural landscape experiences such as trees, vegetation, wildlife, plants, shaded areas, shelter, water, rivers and hiding spaces create a timeless naturalistic landscape. Children using natural play environments can become thoroughly engaged with nature. [16] The wide variations of the natural elements to play schemes can trigger unique spontaneity, for example playing with living creatures such as insects, building dens with natural materials or setting physical challenges within the environment such as climbing trees. [17]

Children seem to have a natural affinity with nature and love for the natural outdoors but today opportunites for this can be limited. Natural England carried out a survey in 2009 which identified that less than 10% of children have the opportunity to play in woodland settings, the countryside or parks. The research also discovered that only 24% of children visit a natural environment once a week in comparison to 53 % of adults who did so in their childhood. [18]

The benefits to children from playing in natural play environments

A recent lecture by Paul Walker the Director of Timbercare (designers and builders of natural play landscapes, mainly manufacturing wooden play units) highlighted his personal opinions of many elements of natural play. He concluded his speech by saying that ironically the investment within the surrounding landscape of a play area was more valuable to children than a collection of individual equipment which the company specialises in providing. [19] Walker felt strongly about his childhood experiences of natural play, he told many stories of his freedom one of which was how by the age of 11 he had a 6 Mile radius to roam within central Sheffield. The complexity of his different play spaces were therefore hugely diverse including post industrial landscapes, derelict buildings, woodland areas, canals and streets. Walker’s primary concern for his industry today is the necessity for low risk in play. Although safety standards now take a more balanced approach he felt they could go further. [20] He felt his childhood experiences of natural based play had a variety of different elements of danger and risk taking, making children of that era much more adventurous and evolving life skills in the changing environment around Sheffield.

Another professional who believes that children should have similar opportunities to Paul Walker is an American journalist Richard Louv whose revolutionary phrase ‘Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder’ sums up the restrictions facing the majority of children in modernised society. The quote below illustrates trends in child play.

‘ONE EVENING WHEN (sic) my boys were younger, Mathew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant table and said quite seriously, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?”. Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship had been reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s the exact opposite of how it was when I was a child.’ [21]

Louv feels that our affinity to nature is innate and in jeopardy across the modernised world. Quoting Sobel he discusses the changes which have occurred in the experience of obtaining food suggesting that food has become almost abstract now being a product in a supermarket which has little connection with the field or farm it came from.

Children are now having to learn where food comes from through schemes such as Natural England’s ‘Learning Outside’ initiative.[22], [23] School trips to farms in England are limited as they take up considerable financial and staffing resources and often only occur once a year as seen at Broom House Adventure Trail. [24]

Urban living can be an experience which is disconnected from nature and can create “ecophobia” a term which Sobel devised to explain a fear that nature can be physically dirty and dangerous. While working at Broom House Adventure Trail it was apparent from children and teachers that children were warned not to get dirty and were wearing expensive designer clothing. This made a barrier to the children fully experiencing natural play and it would be beneficial to the children if teachers made it clear to parents that there would be a strong possibility of clothes getting dirty and damaged. Some of the children also seemed initially hesitant and detached from the natural environment. [25]

Benefits to Children’s Health from Natural Play

* Watching children using the play sites described in this study it is obvious they expend a great deal of energy and burn many calories.

* Not all children prefer sport and some do not like organised activities, but all children want to play.

* Natural play offers less structured opportunities for refining skills such as balance, endurance and confidence and provides a valuable solution for steering children away from childhood obesity.

* Many children are at risk from health problems caused by their life styles which include poor diet and lack of exercise.

* In 2009 it was reported that ‘25% of boys and 33% of girls between two and 19 are overweight’. [26] It was noted in this survey that “parents are getting so used to seeing overweight kids, they do not recognise their own children are obese”.

* These problems cost the National Health over £2 billion annually. County Durham is one of the worst areas in England for childhood obesity. [27] At Broom House Farm Adventure Trail it was noted that the obese children had less self confidence, were more negative in their approach to playing on the equipment and were teased by classmates.

Benefits to Children’s Mental Health from Natural Play

* The BMJ group estimate that 2 children in every class of 30 schoolchildren will have ADHD. [28] There is a strong belief that children with behaviour and learning difficulties, such as ADHD, are thought to be deprived from the experience of natural play. [29]

* Louv reports that parents of children with these problems are being taken to natural play environments in order for them to experience situations which require intense concentration, the children are compelled to observe what is around them and become part of the environment rather than separate from it. [30]

Children with special needs at Broom House Adventure Trail were seen to greatly enjoy the sensory experience of being close to vegetation, running around and watching others playing on equipment. The carers commented that the escapism of being in such a calming atmosphere was beneficial to their state of mind and they would appreciate access to such a facility more often. One respite care home arranged for their children to attend the adventure trail weekly in conjunction with their other activities.

Benefits to Children from interaction with playmates

· Today many children in England lead less active lives as they are able to watch non-stop television or play indoors on computer games. This decreases the amount of interaction they have with parents, siblings and friends. Curry and Arnaud noted that ‘By the age of four and five children are extremely sensitive to each other and acutely tuned to what interests, pleases or provokes another child’. [31] Decreased opportunities to interact through observation, collaboration and discussion during play can have a damaging effect on the confidence of a child and their ability to interact in play environments and in their future lives.

* Playing with others give children the chance to learn about equality and become integrated within wider cultures.

During a consultation process at Kippax Ash Tree Primary School the children discussed their visit to Skelton Grange where they worked together making a shelter and a ‘pebble island’ to simulate an imaginary civilisation in the woodland. The idea of the project was to encourage the children to integrate through constructive play and say how they would survive on the island. The outcome was a number of sustainable solutions which they had learnt about during the course of the day.

Opportunities to develop self reliance

* Natural play environments develop a child’s independence and self sufficiency. When a child enters a natural play environments they can develop a distance from their carers or parents either individually or with other children exploring. This opportunity for play can be achieved in any outdoor space, however in a natural play environment it is enhanced by the magical natural surroundings. This process is important to children who live in confined conditions and are restricted from access to natural play by the location of their accommodation and poverty. White and Stoecklin state ‘While the development of greater independence from toddlerhood to middle childhood can happen within the confines of indoor spaces, safe space outdoors greatly adds to the ability of children to naturally experiment with independence and separation, and the adult’s willingness to trust the child’s competence which is essential for separation to happen.’ [32]

When children accompanied by parents played in the woodland at Broom House they were often heavily restricted by parents who would not allow them to explore the zoned play spaces alone. This was seen on many occasions and created a barrier to the full potential of the natural play experience for their children.

It was interesting to note that although school children stayed within their small teaching groups and despite not being in the comfort of their friendship groups, they were sufficiently stimulated to play together. It was also interesting to observe that the children moved quickly from the natural based play equipment to evolve new imaginative games, making maximum use of the woodland. It was also observed that the paths were used as catalyst for exploring the site within a time limit. [33]

Opportunities for exposure to nature

· Our interactions with nature can be hugely diverse depending upon the environment which a child lives in or is exposed to. The experience of different materials, changing seasons and making connections to nature are important components in natural play. [34] The provision of living material in natural play landscapes incorporates the underlying processes of nature and therefore gives a strong understanding of nature gained through physical interaction and watching seasonal changes in the landscape. ‘Plants and vegetation as a medium within play spaces develop interactive skills. Plants stimulate discovery, dramatic pretend play, and imagination. Plants speak to all of the senses, so it’s not surprising that children are closely attuned to environments with vegetation. Plants, in a pleasant environment with a mix of sun, shade, colour, texture, fragrance, and softness of enclosure also encourage a sense of peacefulness”[35]. When children experience nature, it can be in a variety of sensory experiences its value is precious and can be remembered for a long time.

· Children appreciate the natural layers of the earth no matter how small the play space. Moore recorded a conversation with girls about playing in sand ‘We make streams in the sand when it rains and comes down the hill’ the girls said. The got down on their hands and knees and embarked on a sequence of sand play. Within a few moments they had laid out a network of “roads” running around the humpy surface of the fine, hard-packed, sandy soil. Other infrastructure such as houses and an imaginary manor house was also built.’ [36]

* Water play

* The outdoor environment provides a variety of contrasting surfaces with different textures and play qualities. Recent heavy snowfall in England (2009) triggered instinctive responses to an element which acted as a catalyst for all ages to enjoy excitement and freedom without hesitation or social barriers.

Natural materials are used to enhance environmental play for deprived inner city schools of Leeds such as Skelton Grange Environmental Centre in Leeds (West Yorkshire). One of the many natural based activities completed by school visitors is to construct components of the imaginary settlement described above using, sand, soil, water, twigs and leaves. This exercise although educational connects the children with natural materials.


Design of Natural play environments can produce a range of natural play experiences rather than a single type as per traditional equipped play area…


How can a landscape architect in the UK create ‘natural play’ environments?

The previous section outlined an understanding of what natural play is, case studies and the benefits of designing natural play areas. Play England have given landscape architects the opportunity to design natural play areas in many parts of England – what considerations need to be taken into account when designing them?

New Initiatives of Play England between the years 2006 – 2009

Play England began working for the children’s play programme in 2006 and 2007, with funding gained from ‘The Big Lottery fund’. The recent Play England guidelines show the design principles of Play England. Play England has produced many documents summarising the commitments announced for the Play Strategy of England. The two most relevant one to this study include the ‘Play Strategy’ and ‘Design for Play’. [37]

‘We’ve recently moved over to assessing the tenders on play value much more and this has forced the quality standards up, with suppliers now trying to outdo each other for natural play as well as good design and sheer quantity of features … we score each activity and feature for points and use this information to guide us in consideration of the tenders. In the end though it still comes down to us trying to decide which will offer the best play opportunities for the next 15 years or more.’

Play England have worked in tune with a range of professionals to ensure the best possible guidelines for Landscape Architects to work towards during implementation of the national Play Strategy in their work. Play England is supporting local authority Playbuilders and Play Pathfinders (focusing on 8-13 yrs olds). Their purpose is to deliver the government’s £235m investment in play and natural play in order to create innovative and adventurous play spaces across the UK. This level of investment has not been made before in England. The Play Pathfinder scheme is intended to provide free play opportunities for children and young people in the country over the next 10 years. The Government announced in April 2009 that the overall success of the schemes would be reviewed by children in their local areas. A conference is planned in March 2010 and will explore the future and momentum of the campaign after the last four years.

Play England Guidelines

Since 2006 Landscape Architects have been required by Play England to adopt design principles which take into consideration the summarised guidelines below for new and refurbished natural play schemes (please see appendix 1 for Play England Design Principles in full); [38]

1. Enhancing the site. Site analysis work ensuring the spirit of the chosen site is enhanced, complementing attractive parts of the site and enhancing poorer environments.

2. Using the best location. A balance in defining the exact location of the proposed park, between safety of the child user and seclusion.

3. Enhancing natural features of the site as well as adding new features./Adding a variety of new soft landscape material and natural landscape features in urban and rural play sites.

4. Providing opportunities for diverse play./This includes accommodating natural play for all age ranges including devising social spaces for parents and carers onsite.

5. Provide the opportunity for children of all abilities and needs to mix./ There should be no barriers for people with special needs which may include carers or parents.

6. Encourage community participation in the design process./ The design required has to work for the community and captivate preferences of the neighbours of the site.

7. Ensure the play space can be used by all ages./ The play site must incorporate many aspects of risk for its users to develop an understanding of risk.

8. Design to develop children’s experiences of taking risks in a natural setting./The play site must incorporate many aspects of risk for its user.

9. Use sustainably sourced materials and manage vegetation for play and wildlife value./ Materials do not however over shadow the value of play of the site.

10. Allow ‘slack space’ for children to develop their own play activities such as den building./ It is important to have space with no predefined function.

The Play England guidelines aim to restore natural play experiences when replacing the old play areas installed some decades ago. This revolution in play has had a massive impact on how existing play areas have been refurbished over the last year or so.

Play England scheme at North Kenton Play Area – Case Study

The design of this playground, like many other schemes, was limited as refurbishing a traditional park with integration of natural play was difficult. The problem was the removal of outdated play equipment and hard surfacing / safety surfacing proved expensive to extract consequently vastly reducing the budgets for the overall scheme. COMMENTS

The effect of Play England guidelines on Detailed Design

Following experiences of refurbishing parks under the natural Play England initiative on Tyneside a number of design/ material constraints were highlighted at a meeting held by Play England [39]. The meeting allowed professionals working on similar schemes to discuss their experiences.

Play England require;

* The use of timber play structures as appose to metal.

* The use of Kinetic play equipment.

* The use of pea gravel, sand and bark as surfacing instead of hard surfacing.

* No fencing to be proposed unless necessary. The removal of fencing on sites was also insisted upon at the local authorities cost.

* No trees except fruit trees (for sensory value) to be planted in the natural play space.

* Encourage wildlife when possible.

* Play England refuse to fund path infrastructure, roads or car parks for these sites.

Constraints of the guidelines experienced by other Landscape Architects were noted during the meeting . These are discussed below.


* The funding for the management of natural play schemes is not provided by Play England, this causes problems immediately as the demand of time for natural play environments far exceeds the maintenance costs of a traditional play space. Some staff at Newcastle City Council had negative attitudes towards the maintenance of living material, possibly because they were not familiar with practicalities involved. This could be a problem throughout the country to due budget constraints on time.

Implementation/ Expediency

* Planning approval took 3 months after the following bodies granted permission for the design to be implemented , as approval was required by the community, Play England, the land owner’s maintenance team from Parks and Countryside (Newcastle City Council), health and safety, council insurers and finally the contractor (appointed by the council).

* The removal of hard components from natural play spaces proved to make costly dent in the budget.


* Two consultations were carried out with adults in the community of North Kenton to finalise a design for the natural play site. Within the first consultation the public identified den building areas in woodland would not be suitable due to the negative social atmosphere in the site. The consultations were in the evening and sadly there was not enough time in the process of project to consult children. This was a problem echoed within the natural play internet blog on the landscape institute website. ‘It really hit me today just how much there is still to do, especially if the consultation process is to be carried out in a thorough and meaningful way with the eventual users’. [40]

Evaluation of Play England Guidelines on case studies discussed in this study

The Play England guidelines have been used to evaluate the case studies used in this study, the purpose of doing this was to assess their play value (please see appendix 2). The scoring identifies the strength of the components. The results show clear evidence of play value. ADD MORE OVERVIEW OF TABLE

What are barriers in society to the design of a real experience of ‘natural play’

There are strong social constraints to Natural Play in the England. This derives directly from the adverse society we live in. Many adults believe being over cautious with risk is imperative to their survival in 21st century England. This has admittedly undermined adult attitudes to child play in general. The perception of risks in childhood is voiced throughout UK government policies. These include;

* Current negative trends towards policing child play, this has been seen a number of occasions. Two girls in Bangor Wales were fined £80 for chalking on pavements. ‘One of the girls’ fathers has vowed to fight the fine in court, adding the drawings were washed away by rain.’ [41] Another occasion saw a bizarre incident when three 12 year olds were climbing on a cherry tree on public land, they were arrested and DNA tested, it was also noted these individuals did not have youth offending records. [42] However it is worth mentioning that police act upon the reports from the public. The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police stated in a newspaper report after the tree climbing incident that the force receives about three million non emergency calls and the majority relate to antisocial behaviour. He said ‘It’s not young people committing the crime or young people committing criminal damage, it is actually young people just being there. Young people simply existing is now a major source of concern for people’. [43]

* The on site interpretation in open spaces can be inhibiting to users who may feel that they have to restrict their child’s play more than is really needed (see )

* Users may be put off visiting parks by negative media coverage of badly behaved children and youths.

* Public concerns were however presented to South Tyneside Council when they pollarded six horse chestnut trees in response to a boy falling from a branch when picking conkers. The Head teacher from the adjacent Ashley Primary School, Phil Grice said, ‘Initially I understood the concerns over health and safety, but this is just common sense gone out the window. This has happened because we live in such a blame culture and people are afraid of being sued if someone gets injured. ‘ [44] This quote shows that our culture is neurotic when it comes to safety and as seen in Danish Junk Playground the children guage and develop a deep understanding of safety in the play environment.

* In response to a document published by UNICEF 2001 which discussed a reduction of child deaths on streets, ‘ Meanwhile fear of other social based concerns have also been raised it is written that ‘fear of crime and strangers, and other less specific fears, have made all public spaces feel less safe. These factors, combined with our appetite for digital and consumer cultures, mean family life is now lived increasingly under cover: inside the home, cars, shops and leisure facilities.’ P62

Parental Boundaries To Natural Play

The perceptions of parents also


Childrens rights – (safety regs) Wicksteed Play Inspection Co.


This quote illustrates a child’s response on the Children’s BBC website to the banning of game tag within a school

“To be honest, adults can be very stupid at time. They ban everything, for health and safety reasons. If they’re going to ban very simple stuff like this.”

Limitations of accessibility

Childrens rights – (safety regs) Wicksteed Play Inspection Co.

Health and safety – Risk

Children at play in urban areas is dominated by the fear of their social environment. This can be noted in

In contrast Newcastle play site

Write about kids play in typical urban play areas

Write about parental involvement short paragraph

Outline barriers to natural play and analyse these……….

RE write mentioning impact of urbanisation and the reduction of incidental play spaces and networks to play within

· Children need to be better represented to promote this side to play,

· since 2007 governmental play issues safety standards have been reduced in


Design and consultation imperative to design process

Implementation Building difficult compared to shopping list

33 Francis, Mark (interview), au Shell, Ellen Ruppel, “Kids Don’t Need Equipment, They Need Opportu#]’

]’nity”, Smithsonian Magazine, v25, n4, p78-87, July 1994.
~~Woodland national lottery education grant 25 million fire lighting etc…

Irony of play England saying public consultation is important has to be done but timescales are to tight to complete properly everything has to spent by march 2010.


The competitive world we live in gives a growing number of parents with a strong ethos of a Childs academic success and path to professional jobs contributing to the ever growing world economy. Risk in natural play schemes varies some examples may include using tools as mentioned in Copenhagen, climbing trees, making rope swings and dangerous games are all essential to natural growth and development in most environments but mostly so In a comforting natural setting.

When visiting Throckley Playground, (west Denton Newcastle Upon Tyne) I asked a local grandma looking after 4 children her opinions of refurbishing that site. The lady initially portrayed a negative approach to the prospect due to social problems within the site. They concluded as the play space being “no place for a children at early evening, night time and even sometimes dangerous within the within the daytime”. The woman proceeded to ask about natural based play which had been described and soon the dimensions of play it covered. There was an instant blur until I described natural play as creating a play spaces using vegetation similar. The lady then saw a connection with then described her childhood experiences of local woods and became interested of what could put in place for her grand children and other kids. The conclusion to this site is an social atmosphere which resulted in installing prefabricated natural play structures such as this with little surrounding planting due to strong prejudices that it would be destroyed of the councils behalf. It could be interpreted as a waste of money especially when it was mentioned in conversation, how it was the only play site accessible by children on that side of that town. Safer environments need to enforced for these schemes to be triumphant for its users and economically. Other play sites to back up

Broom House – When handing out leaflets to children for the opportunity of re- visiting the site on different occasions from the nearby deprived schools was simply that their parents would not allow them to re-visit prior to even asking.

Parents have long working hours and are spending less and less time with their children. The majority of children currently within the developed countries consists of being within the educational and care system, when parents interact they are often over tired. In contrast employer schemes present in Britain such as Flexi Time creates an improvement of parent and child time, therefore increasing the opportunity for play. If more legislation came into the domain it would have a knock on effect to the prospects of natural play and the society which receives everything on a plate.

The stereotype of kids as hemmed-in screen-addicted creatures who rarely get outside to glimpse nature has been reinforced by a new survey on where children play.

Less than 10% of kids regularly play in woodlands, countryside and parks, says the survey published today by Natural England. Apparently less than a quarter (24%) of kids now visit a patch of nature once a week, versus 53% of adults in their childhood.

Technology a British study discovered that average eight- year- olds were better able to identify characters from the Japanese card trading game Pokémon than native species within the community they lived: Pikachu, Metapod and Wigglytuff were names more familiar than otter, beetle and oak tree page 33 richard louvre

The opinions of parents visiting the woodland adventure trail at Broom House Farm as paying customers were mixed at first as an entrance fee was required. Some parents felt it unnecessary to pay for the experience however although these schemes should be free, as paying customers for this experience they were constantly satisfied, and there was much repeat cliental. As parents felt it was certainly a resource their children were benefitting from.

Statistics show “94% of children would want to spend more time out of the house”

86% of parents say that on a nice day their children would prefer go to the park than watch TV”. [45]

Changing culture of responsibilities (parents not taking other kids to park)



Prefabricated structures and equipment

During the summer projects i had a consultation with a play manufacturer representative called Helen Horner of ‘Proludic’ one of Europes leading play suppliers. The lady outlined the attitudes of particular grounds maintenance staff within Newcastle City Council which had negative attitudes towards the new forms of soft landscaping maintenance as appose to repairing standard play equipment and surfacing. Equipment from kompan and the likes of Proludic is seen as the easy option. Another barrier to the success of the play scheme was

Manufactured materials in playgrounds and other play based materials in schools and homes cannot compensate for this experience of nature, whether it is individually experienced or with other children. The experience of relentless play requires emotional and physical strength, Are children who play in a natural play schemes fitter than those playing in manufactured playgrounds.

At these Tyneside play sites you can see manufactured play equipment. When children use this equipment, the play diversity and social benefits are limited. The equipment pictured is outdated and was installed in stages going staggered from the 1990s to the 1980s.[46] Children who regularly use these play spaces with little alternatives have lower expectations of play and a degraded experience of play and therefore personal development, proportional to the greater success of a Childs future. The researchers mentioned earlier including Wilson and Brooks thought[47] “They say the quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level”. The Play England initiative has targeted its funding through guidance of local councils, channelling funding into play sites deemed to be in need of refurbishment and replacement. Although Play England allocate guidelines for these schemes to be implemented there are further hurdles within local council policies, constraints and maintenance budgets to be considered. Councils have legal legislation which varies. This affects the implementation of natural play areas for instance Newcastle City Council do not permit the use of sand in parks due to the possibility of being contaminated with smashed glass or dog waste. In comparison Gateshead Council permit the use of sand. Some council maintenance staff have negative attitudes towards the up keep of sites. Previous preferred routines were often very different, requiring less maintenance of soft landscaping with less complex management plans. At a time of high job redundancies among council staff this is a hard issue to combat to ensure the success of natural playgrounds.

The Government, educational organisations and communities could promote the lack of provision for a Childs right to natural play. Parents and carers control when a child plays and if they are not pro active in enhancing this family lifestyles can have a detrimental effect on a Child’s future

Children remember there home and surrounding area of were they live from a young age, however there are a variety of pressing issues stopping these environments being experienced. However these surroundings are often un suitable as safe areas due to social issues such as crime, drug use and gang related culture.

CHANGEEEEE expectations of what play area should be sometimes it is difficult for those views to be changed, period of transition currently from traditional playgrounds to natural play environments/ conclusion broom house is completely new

Harehills Leeds

[48] “In 2002 the Child Accident Prevention Trust explored attitudes towards risk and safety in the leisure of 2,000 young people, aged 11-14 years, from Gateshead, a relatively deprived area of the north east England. It found that about 40 per cent said they spent some of their leisure time in places they felt to be dangerous, while around half said they took part in risks and dares with their friends. Wasteland, building sites and subways or underpasses were the most popular sites, along rivers, abandoned buildings and quarries. Young people’s reasons for visiting such places spoke strongly of a search for freedom and autonomy: they included a desire to be away from adults;”

Case Study

The process of combining the spaces would have a maximum effect utilizing education within school timetable with natural play spaces. Children spend over 25% of there time in school and commit over 12,500 hours (UK) to graduate from school at 16. Get other facts and statistics from other laptop or of net. Schools have local and community governments, unions, parental groups and student councils which could undertake the control of this opportunity. If the issue of safety barriers is are not addressed in unity it will have minimal impact if people who can make significant changes do not participate. Parents want their children to play in an environment where they don’t have to think about whether the children are a) safe from accidents, b) safe from being attacked c) so it would make sense.

Banning of children from playgrounds (why?)

· Harehills leeds some parents use car parks to play in comparison to the dangerous park – do you mean they let they children play in car parks because they think children are more vulnerable in playgrounds?

· Would people’s culture affect their preferences as to how their children play? Possible look if there are any studies done outside of schools

Try and find study done by adults about natural play and their feelings about it.

The materials used within the construction of play equipment at broom house is custom made

In comparison to catalogue equipment, the cost of construction would far outway the cost of prefabricated structures

· Provide same experience for children in two contexts

Sharps, dog dirt etc LI forum

· Look at familiarity of environments

· Recession

Get web address for Natural Play Interview from cracked laptop

What does the recent financial meltdown mean to both the work ethic and play ethic?I think the ‘ethical’ part of the play ethic is about placing the idea of creativity, activity and collaboration – rather than being programmed, being defined by consumption, taking orders – at the centre of a society. I do think this means a shift of energies and commitment from a society with a certain model of growth, to one with a different model of growth – where it’s a growth in happiness, or the richness of one’s interactions, or the satisfaction in one’s labours and projects, that becomes our collective target for the future. I think the coming age of fiscal and financial austerity – the hangover from our days of credit-fuelled consumerism – could provide the necessary conditions for that growth-model to move from the margins to the centre of policy, politics and daily life. We won’t have the money to solve our problems and assuage our existential angsts – we’ll have to innovate, act and collaborate to fill those holes. I hope the idea of a ‘play ethic’ is useful in that scenario


consequently excluding wheel chair users unless the council paid for installing paths.

Mention that there seems to be more written about natural play in the US and Denmark

Context of site – Newcastle play sites within low quality parks – potentially not being used

Denmark advance system – research others,

UK BSFS (Building schools for the Future – Child in our time… – Landscape Design refs

Broom House, YMCA trips continue to provide ‘special’ day outs – either paid or subsidised by local authority – limited

Social context………. wasting money …………schools…………..safer environment……..broom house farm…………….play equipment……… cost…………pre fabricated kit…..accessibility………skelton and broom house………….false economy

How can trees not be installed when they provide more

Answer if risk will change because of these natural play sites

Two different contexts can it be imposed into urban surroundings possible compromising on less natural materials

Bedding in current Kompan playgrounds are subtle a brief natural statement to its users due to their size would it be better to plant a wooded environment at schools?

Parallels from tables created

Recessional factors

Britons took 45.26 million trips in the UK in January- May 2009. – 1.8% increase in numbers for the first five months of 2008 , the statistics from Visit England showed

Benefits to me, benefits for reader….

How far can landscape architects go to give a ‘natural play’ experience, conclusion of case studies showing whether there are significant attributes of natural play.

· Government policies a designers role

· Expectations of natural play and the happiness it brings In conclusion are people happy with natural play


Indicating hierarchy of values would numbering system work?

Does review of plan of procedure go into conclusion or by itself?

Should titles be in a more question format

Play the integral part of human intervention – not sure?

Can it work and where? – Site specific solutions

Themes- costs, culture and environment

Careful how urban is defined

Quote – how ideas can progress

* Focus on each case studies drawing

* Set context

* Intro shows structure of dis

* Create evaluation criteria

* Find question and subsequent criteria

* Lead up to evaluation

* Make distinction between academia and a personal experiences

Edited text which come in handy later

Mothering play within children in different societies is identical in younger children. In the modern world when available girls, they use most commonly a plastic doll to develop there affection for there appreciation of motherhood roles. In the un modernised world substitutes of melons in the !Kung tribe, Yanomami girls use a banana blossom is carried as a doll in a sling.

Put More Researchers with difference of opinions?

Groos was a Dutch student of human and animal behaviour. His two books, The Play Of Animals (1896) and The Play Of Man (1901), seem to be the first books entirely devoted to the subject. Groos, saw play as functional. All creatures used play ‘to pre-exercise their skills’.

Play can be adapted to allow children to cope in difficult environments such as hospitals were they may be experiencing severe trauma on behalf of themselves or a close person. Play can also be used to create a safe haven of trauma in countries of unrest and can even be used as an escape from life at home and school.

Get book year and publisher

“While the development of greater independence from toddlerhood to middle childhood can happen within the confines of indoor spaces, safe space outdoors greatly adds to the ability of children to naturally experiment with independence and separation, and the adult’s willingness to trust the child’s competence which is essential for separation to happen.”

25 Bartlett, Sheridan, “Access to Outdoor Play and Its Implications for Healthy

Get web page from cracked laptop

Burkes (2005) study of child play of children in East Leeds, her method of obtaining information was through the powers of photography. The children each took a series of photographs, over 70% of these pictures collected were of outdoor spaces. Burke portrays the natural material of grass and its use within play spaces.

“Young Children appreciate grass, it’s aesthetic, its feel, smell, and function as a building material. They fight with grass and they mark out their boundaries with grass. Grass left after mowing can transform a landscape into a new play opportunity.”

Burke 2005. 46

Play England design guidance wins award

30November 2009

Design for Play, the practice guidance produced to help play pathfinders and playbuilders develop existing and new play spaces, was highly commended by the judges at annual Landscape Institute awards.

The guide’s authors, Aileen Shackell, Nicola Butler and Phil Doyle were joined by representatives from Play England to receive the award at the ceremony in November. In their assessment of the guide, the judging panel commented that: ‘This work was inspiring in its approach and the case studies inspired the judges.’

Evidence of the guide’s impact is also becoming clear. Aileen Shackell said: ‘Two years ago the types of case studies included in this guide were hard of find in England, but now, thanks to this book, children are increasingly able to enjoy inspiring play spaces that make good use of natural elements; meet children’s desire for challenge and risk; and crucially are maintained for play value to meet their play needs.’

The guidance has been influential in changing current play space design by advocating a landscape design-led approach that moves away from the sometimes limiting stereotype of the public playground. The popular guide was published jointly by Play England and government, with over 21,000 copies distributed and 14,000 plus downloads from the Play England website.
Design for Play – A guide to creating successful play spaces

Play England and government departments leadingon play have published guidance which will help transform the design of play spaces in the future.

Play England commissioned the Free Play Network to produce the guide, whicDesign for Play thumbnailhwill help those involved in commissioning and designing places for play put play value at the heart of provision.

The guide shows how to design good play spaces, which can be affordably maintained, which give children and young people the freedom to play creatively, and yet still allow them to experience risk, challenge and excitement.

The guide sets out a new approach, tackles some current myths, and aims to challenge providers to think more laterally and creatively about children and young people in the public domain.

The guide is availablefree of charge – order your copy below ordownload here.

Download Design for Play: A guide to creating successful play spaces [2.7MB PDF].

Introducing Design for Play

Design for Play includes 10 design principles which are at the core of a fresh, design-led approach to commissioning, and which are encapsultedinone ‘golden rule’:

‘A successful play space is a place in its own right, specially designed for its location. Designers should take a holistic perspective on designing for play. Play opportunities should be embedded in the site as a whole.’

Download the Design for Play: Ten design principles[3.1MB PDF].

You can also view this presentation onlineat

Further information

* Authors:Aileen Shackell, Nicola Butler,Phil Doyle, David Ball

* Publishers: The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

* Published: August 2008

* ISBN: 978-1-84775-225-3

Print copies of this publication can be obtained from theDCSF publications distributor:

Read the news release launching this publication.

“As Americans become increasingly urbanized, their attitudes toward animals change in paradoxical ways. To urbanized people, the source of food and reality of nature are becoming more abstract. At the same time, urban folks are more likely to feel protective toward animals-or to fear them. The good news is that children are less likely to kill animals for fun; the bad news is that children are so disconnected from nature that they either idealize it or associate it with fear- two sides of the same coin, since we tend to fear romanticize what we don’t know. Sobel, one of the most important thinkers in the realm of education and nature, views “ecophobia” as one of the sources of the problem. Our natural link to nature needs to be fulfilled as our childhood experiences are formed by our responses and personal interactions with nature. This argument genetic nature of this argument is strongly supported by childhood being a constant response to the external world. Children who have not adapted to the modern man made world seem to instinctively prefer natural surroundings compared to municipal spaces[49]. “While the development of greater independence from

Wilson and other researchers in similar fields argue that humans have an innate affinity for many aspects of the natural world, Wilson also claims that from his work that as humans we instinctively have a biological based needs, imperative to our development, confirming a human attachment to the natural landscape. In contrast a historian called Huizinga was known to contest the views of physiologists and sociologists who thought play had a ‘biological purpose’ Huizinga said “We have to conclude, therefore, that civilisation in its earliest stages played. It does not come from play like uses of play a babe dethatching itself from the womb; as it arises in, and as, play never leaves it”[50]. Huizinga did not consider animal evidence of evolution and thought play was more related to cultural development.

As a 2001 UNICEF report on child deaths highlights

“Tell parents that they are being over protective and that roads are becoming safer for their children is, in this context, like telling them that they can let their children play with matches again because deaths have been falling”adverse society p62



Andy Clarke – Southern Green Landscape Architects

David Stokoe – Southern Green Landscape Architects

Kevin Selwood – Kompan

Mike Gladstone – Lanchester Partnership

Mark Gray & Partners Broom House Farm, Durham

Mike Hall (Landscape Architect ) – Northern Environment Workshop

Preludic – Helen Horner

Richard and Fagan Hare – Visiting tutor

Skelton Grange Leeds – Toby Roberts Project Officer

Teachers and children Kippax Ash Tree Primary School, Leeds



[2] Cohen, David The development of play (Croom Helm 1985) p.66

[3] ibid

[4] Play England

[5] Working for landscape architects Southern Green

[6] Broom House Farm,

[7] Refer to theories

[8] Pellegrini, D & Smith, P. The Nature of Play p. 233

[9] Cohen, David the development of play p23 Rousseau

[10] Cohen, D p.19

[11] Conway, H Public Parks Shire Books 1996



[14] ibid From then to Now

[15] award?

[16] 26 The Importance of Play

[17] Personal comments from Staff and Skelton Grange and children at Kippax Ash Tree Primary School November 2009


[19] Design and the Community lecture September 2009

[20] Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation guide 2008 Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Play England. The guide has been formally endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive.

[21] Louv, Richard ‘Last child in the woods’ 2008, Atlantic Books p. 1 ‘Gifts of nature’


[23] ibid. pp. 133-134 ‘Don’t know Much About Natural History’

[24] Personal comments by teachers at Broom House Educational Visits, June 2009.

[25] See similar feedback for Skelton Grange Questionnaire Results, Edward Green, November 2009.


[27] County Durham and Tees Valley Public Health Network Preventing, identifying and managing childhood and adolescent overweight and obesity in County Durham and the Tees Valley 2004
[28] British Medical Journal – Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD Guardian 9 November 2009

[29] Harvey, Matthew Playing with their minds Times Educational Supplement 1 February 2008

[30] Louv, Richard ‘Last child in the woods’ 2008, Atlantic Books p. 100 ‘Nature – Deficit Disorder and the Restorative Environment ‘

[31] Cohen, David The development of Play Croom Helm 1985 p. 66 Playing with Other Children
[32] Stoecklin & White Children’s Outdoor Play & Learning Environments: Returning to Nature n.d.’s%20Outdoor%20Play%20White%20&%20Stoecklin.pdf

[33] Natural England funded school trips ref?

[34] London Play Winter playday? 6.2.2009

[35] Moore, Robin C., Plants for Play: A Plant Guide for Children’s Outdoor Environments refs page no??…

[36] Moore. R (1986) page 56 Childhoods domain. London: Croom Helm refs..




[40] Graham Keith Pockett on July 16, 2009 at 5:19pm



[43] Page 42 risk adverse society


[45] Worpole, K (2003) No particular place to Go. Groundwork Trust



[48] Gill. T (2007) No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Page 17 -19


[50] Cohen,David The development of play 1987 Croom Helm page 19 ‘the history of play’

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