Create a fabulous sand play area on your Natural Playground

Sand is one of the few manipulatives that truly allows children to explore their imaginations. Unfortunately, in most play settings, sand is treated as just one more controlled play item: it’s kept in containers until it’s used in a plastic “sand table.”  

The beauty of sand, is that it’s a material found almost everywhere on earth, so it’s unsettling that children see it stored in table or in a bucket on a shelf along with crayons and toys, totally disconnected from its natural setting. Not much of it fits in a sand table, and there’s no room to build anything complex, such as road systems or mountains. Children stand at the table, rather than play on their hands and knees, and many are required to wear aprons so they don’t get dirty.

We’re pretty certain that these are not good lessons for children.

Children also find sand boxes limiting. Whenever we’ve seen a sandbox adjacent to a sand pile, children are never in the confined box. They’re always in the free-form area, playing with abandonment.

When sand is where it’s supposed to be, children love playing in it. They can dig to China, find “fossils,” hunt for gems, make roadways, build mountains, create waterways, build sand castles, dig tunnels, and discover hidden treasures. If they mix sand with water, they can make shapes of almost any kind.

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Creating Unstructured Play Environments

"Weʼre wired to play and have fun!" says Ron King. President, Natural Playgrounds Company.  

"Iʼve seen movies of bears wrestling with each other, monkeys playing and laughing together, squirrels chasing each other in trees, and cats batting dangling string, rolling and chasing balls, and pouncing on wind-up mice."

And us? We do the same kinds of things, and sometimes go to great lengths to take a break from routines and have fun!

All of us are busy, but we do look for moments here and there to grab a coffee, see a movie, go out for dinner, take a drive, chat with a friend, or watch TV.

And boy, does it feel luxurious when we actually have time to unwind and hike, or fish, or garden, or swim, or paint, or read, or pursue our hobby....or just take a long, wonderful, quiet nap in the middle of the day. Anything that doesnʼt involve a schedule or an obligation or meeting a deadline is just plain precious to us.

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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).

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