Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is Nature Play?

Can we define something that moves, changes and is purposefully open ended? Can we try to create a box for a wild creature with a mind of its own? Well, why not try? The Oregon Nature Play Initiative is in the process of doing just that. Below is our working definition of Natural Play. What do you think?

Natural Play challenges and fascinates children and teaches them about the wonders and intricacies of the natural world while they explore and play within it. It is intuitive and unstructured, constructive (or deconstructive), and timeless, encouraging interaction with natural materials, features, indigenous vegetation, and creative landforms. Natural Play is often a blend of materials and experiences to create purposely complex interplays of natural and environmental objects.

Do you have a nature play definition you like?
Like this wordle? You can create your own at

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Does Nature Play Look Like?

Recently I have found myself in front of groups of people trying to explain what nature play is and what it looks like. The general concept is easy to grasp: nature and play. But, once we get down to specifics like materials, risk and maintenance a little more definition is needed.  I think we all have a different picture in our head on what nature play looks like and getting on the same page at the beginning of a conversation or project can save a lot of headaches later. I have started presenting nature play on continuums.  The imagery and concepts start to steer us towards more comfortable areas of the continuum for everyone involved.

I have found it helpful because different types of clients gravitate to different issues and continuums. Private and supervised sites can have a very different feel (focused toward an age group, more loose parts, more 'wild' maintenance) then open and public sights (vandalism proof, higher budget, larger target user group). What do you think? would this help you frame the conversation?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nature Play Community Workshop

In Portland we celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a community design event for a nature play area that will be built in Westmoreland Park. I could not have anticipated how much the kids were going to enjoy the event. Their creativity, teamwork and ingenuity were all in full gear. It was an amazing start to an exciting project.

The Concept:
Portland Parks and Recreation and GreenWorks Landscape Architecture invited the community to play with natural materials, talk about natural play, make models and lay the groundwork for the upcoming design at the Westmoreland Park. The City of Portland recognizes the benefits of letting children play in nature; including physical, mental and social benefits. At a Parks and Recreation staff workshop earlier this week risk, maintenance and criteria for natural play were discussed.

The Activities:
Activities ranged from having adults remember their childhood play experiences, to free building and water play areas, to model making stations. The design team was able to talk with kids and adults about what they would like to see in the natural play area.

The Outcome:
We had fun! I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The kids were amazing. Nothing had to be explained, they just arrived and dove in. Kids of different ages and abilities were working together, creativity soared, and we got amazing feedback and ideas for the play area.

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