Our outdoor learning environment partners at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds share their best features for physical literacy in outdoor learning and play spaces.
With the average rate a child spends outdoors dropping every year due to sedentary lifestyles centered around technology, many children struggle with the effects of poor physical literacy. Basic skills, such as skipping, jumping, and throwing a ball are a challenge.
This being a new reality, natural playgrounds have become critical spaces where children can engage in free play that promotes healthy gross-motor development, while also connecting to nature.
Gross-motor play provides opportunities for children to practise whole-body movement, and to develop the core strength they need to perform everyday functions.
Gross-motor play also contributes to the development of complex skills children need to participate in a range of physical activities, including sports, to enjoy active and rewarding lifestyles.
Below are some of our team’s top picks for natural playground features that can help children develop the strength and competence they need to become the next generation of physically literate adults:
Sideways Tree Climbers
Adding a sideways tree climber to a playground does wonders to provide children with opportunities for non-prescriptive outdoor play. Children can climb, hang, balance, jump, and cruise around the climber, building core strength in the process. Engagement with the climber also offers children rich sensory experiences, in addition to opportunities to exercise motor planning, balancing, and coordination skills. Plus, children can drape fabric across the climber’s branches to make forts, allowing for social, dramatic, and creative play.
The simple beauty, and function, of a log tunnel makes it an ideal play feature. Children of all ages will enjoy running, walking, and crawling through the tunnel, or climbing its exterior. Additionally, a log tunnel provides many opportunities for youth to practise motor planning and body coordination skills. A tunnel also serves as an inviting place to play with others, or as a quiet space to reflect.
Made from the stumps of fallen trees, stepping rounds are an easy and fun way to introduce physical challenges on a playground. Grouping six to nine stepping rounds together offers children opportunities to leap and balance, while encouraging collaboration and cooperation. Stepping rounds also come in a variety of sizes to accommodate different age groups. The higher and narrower the stump, the greater the challenge becomes.