Friday, January 21, 2011

Is There Growing Interest in Nature Play?

I think we all know where we have come from; the streams, forests, beaches and wild lots in our lives. But discerning where we are going is a little harder. From where I sit, at my desk on a Friday evening as coworkers are slowly giving in to the weekend, the road looks exciting but undefined.

The Oregon Climate
In and around Portland I have seen nature based playgrounds pop up as small bubbles of logs and rocks on many park and playground design plans. It seems like about every park and recreation or education group includes some form of support for nature based play in their annual conference. There was even a Nature Play Summit earlier this year in Vancouver WA. GreenWorks, The landscape architecture company I work for continues to get calls from communities and parks departments requesting natural play in their neighborhoods. Although I still have to explain nature play to most of the folks I talk to, many more nod and smile with understanding than ever before.

The Internet Climate
The World Wide Web has brought instant answers to our fingertips. I wondered what people were searching for on google. I was pointed to this interesting google search word feature. By entering popular (or not so popular) search words into google insights you can see how often each word is search relative to the others. In my search Children's Park and Children's Garden peak the charts. While Learning Landscape and Nature Based Play scrape the bottom of the barrel. When I add Playground to the list, the others virtually bottom out. Try it out the link, it is kind of fun!

What Does This Mean?
I appears that as a majority we still think of playgrounds as 'the' outdoor spaces for children. While our world view is widening to Children's Parks and Children's Gardens we still have not reached the tipping point for nature play and natural exploration area for young people. I have seen a few successful nature play initiatives. Small conglomerates of dedicated people making change. But, a large movement may be a while off. I wonder if a common lexicon would help us move forward, or pigeon hole us into a certain type of space. I start with the same concepts of getting young people out in nature to explore and learn and I end up with; learning gardens, rain gardens, nature play areas, playgrounds, animal adventure areas, school gardens, arboretums, and parks. Maybe learning landscapes is not the most popular google search term, but it helps me wrap my head around the scope and impacts of these ideas to bring into focus that picture of where we may be going.

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