Natural Playgrounds last forever!

When we lecture about or discuss Natural Playgrounds, the one question we always get? "What about maintenance?" - asked in a challenging manner, and as though nothing else requires it....  

...and as though that question should stop us in our tracks, make us reconsider this foolish idea of bringing nature closer to children so they'll get healthier, be more well- adjusted, be happier, be able to learn more, be good stewards of the earth.

I don't know if people asking really want to know the answer, so they can plan long range, or if they're looking for ways to derail others from pursuing this "foolishness."

"What's the difference?" I want to say. "If you think it's best for your children, as all the research suggests, then it doesn't matter, does it? Because if it’s that important (and it is!), you'll find a way to take care of it!"

Instead we patiently explain that Natural Playgrounds are living, breathing things. They're natural environments, and like your garden at home, they need looking after.

Continue reading

Natural Playgrounds are very affordable!

With the world of play dominated by manufactured playgrounds, it may be hard to understand the importance of going in a different direction, but there is good reason to change course and explore a much more viable playground option.

Montessori and other schools can save lots of money by creating sustainable, philosophically consistent, natural playgrounds that are safer and meet green standards, yet challenge kids emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Over the past six decades, playground equipment manufactures have been the sole source for answers to questions about play, children, and safety. When a new playground was needed, or one needed refurbishing, decision-makers always turned to these companies to give them the most up-to-date playground equipment that met the newest ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials, International) and CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Council) safety standards.

But the injury statistics suggest that this confidence may be misplaced. Despite the stringent safety regulations, over a half million playground equipment related accidents are reported every year.

In 2006, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reported that most of these injuries occurred among people younger than 20. More than 177,000 injuries came from monkey bars or other climbing equipment, nearly 128,000 from swings, more than 113,000 from slides, and thousands more from other playground equipment.

Continue reading

Designing for outdoor play and learning

When it comes to designing outdoor spaces, creativity should be encouraged. An understanding of the characteristics and history of the site will helpt to establish a sense of place and relate to what is there already.

A skilled designer, most likely a natural playground designer, should lead the process, supplemented with additional expertise, such as from a play expert or civil engineer. Public artists can also add richness to a project, and art installations can sometimes offer children more play value than equipment. 

Back to nature

Natural play is growing in popularity in the UK. Natural play spaces contain playful landscape elements including landform, vegetation, and natural elements such as logs, stones, mud, and sand.

Research studies have documented the benefits that can come from natural play, including for children’s learning, healthy growth, and development. This year the Forestry Commission is publishing Nature play: simple and fun ideas for all, an illustrative guide that provides ideas for local forest managers to implement in their nature play areas. Many of the ideas in the guide can equally be applied to urban areas.

Continue reading

How to make your playground more natural

by Ron King, President, Natural Playgrounds Company

Each year we get requests from Center directors asking for ideas on how to “soften” their playgrounds with more natural play elements.

Most of the 330,000 licensed child care centers in the US have metal and plastic playgrounds on top of wood/rubber chips designed to prevent injury from possible falls. Sometimes a concrete path with a dotted line straight down the center to mimic a road gets trike use, and typically there isn’t enough shade --- which all adds up to a pretty harsh outdoor play environment. 

Although most of our work is designing equipment-free Natural Playgrounds, we have also found ways to incorporate more natural play experiences in manufactured ones, so let’s look at some ideas you can try. 

Step One: Assess what you have

Continue reading

Building your Natural Playground in phases?

Over the years we've noticed that many of our clients do not finish building their natural play environments. According to them, after building about 30% of the design, the playground looked so much better, and kids were having so much more fun, that the drive to finish their natural playgrounds died out.

Unfortunately, this meant that the few play elements that were completed got overused and rapidly deteriorated. The playgrounds then looked bad, everyone got discouraged, and instead of trying to complete the original natural playground design, traditional equipment was brought back into the playground to try solving the problems.

Soon the cycle will start again. Kids will be bored with the equipment, they’ll want more things to do, they’ll want to be more creative, and the appeal of natural playgrounds will loom large once again.

So this is a reminder: finish building the whole design as quickly as you can. It is meant to work as a whole. Expecting that it will function as it should when it’s only 30% complete, is like expecting your watch to work with only 30% of its parts, or like your school to function with only 30% of its staff.

And one last note: a change in administration brings in new people who may not be aware of the natural playground concept. Take the time to go over the Natural Playground design with them, and to discuss all the wonderful reasons why you initially chose to go in the direction of a more natural play environment.

Continue reading

Comparing Grass, Fall Zones, and Rubber on Playgrounds

"Fall zones are required around elevated playground equipment from which children could fall." says Ron King, President of the Natural Playgrounds Company in Concord, NH. "The idea is to cushion the falls so the likelihood of children suffering major accidents is lessened."

"Fall zones are usually huge. They need to extend 6’ out from every part of any equipment, and need to be completely under all the equipment, so the area filled with fall zone material is, as I said, HUGE...."

...and therefore, obviously costly, regardless of the material used, so if you’re thinking about poured-in-place rubber (PIP), it has a typical lifespan of 10-15 years IF it’s installed perfectly over a perfect sub-base (which it usually isn’t), and it’s extremely expensive, so having to replace it every 10-15 years amounts to a significant yearly maintenance cost. (more later)

Just so you know, fall zones on Natural Playgrounds are very limited in size because many of the “elevated” structures are built into hills, so there is no place to fall off the sides(!!) which means that fall zones are required on only one side, and that means that fall zones are very much smaller, and therefore less expensive initially and over the long run.

One more good reason to consider Natural Playgrounds, right? :))

Continue reading

What Are Natural Playgrounds?

If you've ever climbed trees, rolled down hills, scrambled up rocks, made mud pies, dammed up water, hid in grass, played house in bushes, built snow forts, dug in sand, played in dirt, planted seeds, jumped in leaves, tracked animals, or had fun outside in other, similar ways, you've experienced natural play.

Our unique design process helps our playground designers work with you to combine existing and new landscape elements, movement corridors, sun paths, weather patterns, drainage courses, plant groupings, and other site amenities with carefully chosen natural materials, structures, berms, hills, and other features to create safe, accessible, age-appropriate play, social, and learning opportunities in natural play areas that look and feel like they've been there forever.

Our natural playgrounds look like miniature natural landscapes, and they're full of intriguing play and learning opportunities just waiting to be discovered by children of all ages. Sometimes they're referred to as ecological parks, play parks, or nature parks.

In urban settings, we adhere to the same philosophy, but use several techniques to alter it to accommodate the higher impacts occurring in high use areas.

As vegetation plays a major role in the cooling down and softening of play environments, we use it extensively and capitalize on its three-dimensional characteristics to highlight and envelop the urban playscape. This way, the natural world can be observed, cared for, and appreciated close up.

Depending on the scope of the project, fitness structures, furniture, and site fixtures are incorporated into both urban and rural designs. 

If you'd like our help exploring the possibilities on your site, please call us toll free 888-290-8405 or email us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

What Does A Natural Playground Cost?

During our presentations to prospective clients, we always know there'll be a time when someone will ask "how much do natural playgrounds cost?"

I take a deep breath and say "That's a hard one, but if you give me a minute, I'll give you an answer."

It's hard because there are no direct comparisons. A few of the tangibles might be sort of comparable, but it's almost impossible to compare the intangibles. For instance, a slide is a slide, so the experience of actually going down a slide in a manufactured playground and going down a slide built into a hill in a natural playground will be pretty close. But it's really more complicated than that.


  • They are the same initial investment as a traditional playground
  • 10 times more play and learning elements
  • Significantly higher play value
  • Tailored to your budget
  • Last longer
  • Lower maintenance costs

Here's an example: a 35' long slide gives a great ride for kids of all ages, 5 years to 65 years. To achieve the proper slope for this long a slide, the ladder has to be 20' high. 20' is way off the ground. If kids try climbing the slide and fall off one side, they'll get hurt. If they fall off the ladder, they'll get hurt. Further, if they're afraid of climbing ladders, or are intimidated by height, they won't have a chance to even try the slide.

On the other hand, if this same slide is built into a hill, there is no ladder (so no one can fall off), there is no way a child can be intimidated by height, and there are no sides to fall off of, which makes the slide very safe. Further, if the access up the hill to the top of the slide is made challenging and fun (rock walls to climb, or interesting paths to follow), then children will find the whole experience more interesting and may therefore be more inclined to repeat it -- thus making them exercise more while they're learning more than just climbing up and sliding down. The actual cost of the slide for the natural playground will be far less, as the slide is simpler (no structure, no ladder, no ladder enclosure, no tube to keep kids from falling off), and there is no need for a fall zone all around the slide (it's just at the end).

Continue reading

Natural Playgrounds: Best Choice in a Tight Economy

Safe, sustainable, and more challenging Natural Playgrounds cost less than traditional playground equipment and are catching the eye of childcare centers, elementary and Montessori schools, and communities wanting to save money in this tight economy.

The Natural Playgrounds Company® says it can save communities, schools, and childcare centers lots of money by creating sustainable, Natural Playgrounds that are safer and meet green standards, yet challenge kids emotionally, physically, and mentally.

“For the past 60 years, everyone, including bottom-liners, has relied on playground equipment companies providing answers to questions about play and children,” says Ron King, President of the Concord, NH-based Natural Playgrounds Company.

“When a playground needed refurbishing, or a new playground was needed, decision-makers turned to playground equipment companies to give them the most up-to-date playground equipment that met the newest safety standards,” said King.

“Then every ten years or so, when that equipment became outdated, out-of-code, and out of compliance, it was dumped in the trash and replaced without a thought, sometimes at great sacrifice to other, more pressing program needs, and certainly at great cost to the environment.”

Continue reading

Who should consider natural playgrounds?

If you need to remodel old playgrounds, build new ones, develop master plans for play areas around schools or communities, develop outdoor classrooms, create learning trails, or build gardens, shade structures, gateways, or play sculptures...

...and you want to do something creative, different, cost-effective, long-lasting, educational, and beautiful that benefits your children in numerous ways,

Please don't pull out a catalog! 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

...and let our natural playground staff help you assess your situation and work with you to develop a plan that gets you where you want to go - in a natural way - toward a Natural Playground.

Continue reading

Keep Connected

Stay up to date by subscribing to our newsletter.

© 2013-2020 Natural Playgrounds Company. All Rights Reserved.
Web Design by Blue Muse MediaWorks.