Kids Talk About Natural Play

Playgrounds are built by adults, and typically they don't ask children for advice. We thought it might be a novel idea to survey children, and get them to tell us about their favorite outside play activities -- just to see what they say about playing. Then, we reasoned, we could design playgrounds that let kids play the way they want to play.

With this in mind, over the years we've asked for information from over 5,000 children, and sure enough, they don't like typical playgrounds. What they do like are all the things we used to like when we were kids: playing in the leaves, climbing trees, looking for bugs, climbing on rocks, and making forts. But one of the most significant findings is that kids also want their playgrounds to provide a place for quiet reflection. They like listening to the wind, and watching things grow and change. They like building and inventing things, exploring and discovering, playing in the dirt, playing in the rain, and socializing....

The attached PDF documents are from our most recent survey of 600 children in grades 1-4. They bear careful study and reflection by all of us adults, because -- and this is important -- it's an insight into what kids think, what they want, how they play, what they get excited about, how they interact with each other, what they think is important....

How can we not pay attention to this information? How can we justify spending money on things kids don't care about? The concern about safety has somehow disconnected us from our children and young adults -- and from our common sense. It's convinced us that our only option is to buy manufactured equipment. But keep in mind that a hill to climb and then roll or slide down is more safe than a manufactured climbing structure. A beautiful stone wall to sit and walk on is every bit as safe as a plastic fence, and it's nicer looking, too. And a tree provides more shade, temperature control, beauty, and texture than a shade tent.

Take a look at both these PDF documents. The first is a categorized list of "Favorite Things to Do Outside" the second is a list in which kids tell us why they like to do these things. It's pretty amazing stuff.

These have become our guidelines. We hope they become yours, as well.


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