Why Nature Playgrounds Are Satisfying For Young Children

Why Nature Playgrounds Are Satisfying For Young Children

We've spotted a trend: equipment-free playgrounds that offer logs, stumps, and stones to climb on rather than metal slides and plastic climbers. These nature-based playgrounds are inviting to children, who will find new ways to use their bodies as they navigate the textures and heights of natural materials. 

natural playground in san francisco
Climbing structure made from logs in San Francisco | Photo: Whitney Moss

Offering children access to natural materials is a foundation of the Montessori approach. You'll find pinecones and wooden toys inside the classroom (or a Montessori-style playroom at home) and plenty of time in a daily routine for interacting with an outdoor environment. 

(See our round-up of Mud Kitchens for backyard inspiration!)

Connecting with nature is important for children. Maria Montessori observed that the inherent beauty and harmony in nature offers children access to:

  • rich sensory experiences with different textures
  • problem-solving practice while navigating an environment that was not curated for them in advance
  • appreciation for the planet that will motivate a sense of responsibility for its well-being


This Bay Area playground includes natural elements within the context of a standard playground.

The beauty of nature playgrounds

Playing in the woods or at a campsite offers an enriching environment for children, but for folks in the city, the emergence of nature playgrounds at parks and children's museums is a wonderful trend.

Children can experiment with their own level of risk as they climb on logs, deciding for themselves how high to go. Interacting with play equipment that was not simply manufactured for this purpose gives them a sense of pride, as if they have invented a new way to use an existing material. Playing in nature promotes creativity.

Stumps for Nature Play in Backyard
photo credit: Heather Flett

Creating a natural playspace in your backyard

For those who don't live among the woods, there are options for bringing natural elements into your outdoor playspace. Here are some ideas: 

  • Stumps (sometimes found on the side of the road!) can offer climbing and jumping challenges, and serve as side tables when you plop a chair down next to one!
  •  Logs can serve as benches, obstacles, and balance beams if they are large enough. Children will practice agility as they climb over them.
  • Stones can invite hopscotch-style play
  • Trays or containers of sticks and shells can invite creative pattern play
Slide in a natural playground
This nature-inspired play area in San Francisco includes a slide embedded in rocks so that the rocks are used as stairs to ascend the slide. Photo: Heather Flett

Offering gross motor challenges combined with an appreciation of nature, it makes sense that modern parents are seeking nature-based playgrounds to counter-balance all the time our children spend in indoor, tech-centric settings.

Children have an inherent drive to learn and to exercise maximum effort with their bodies. They love to be independent and discover their own skills and abilities for themselves. 

Children derive satisfaction from self-selecting activities and engaging in challenges at exactly the right level. When they find this level, you'll notice they may repeat the action over and over again, for example climbing over a log or jumping from a stump.

Repetition is a signal that they are engaged in deep learning. When you notice your little one repeating a play pattern, rest assured that they are concentrating and feeling satisfied.

Read next: Why Montessori Toys are Made of Wood


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