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New Study Showcases that Children Benefit More from Natural Play Over Expensive Playsets

Posted by Jerry Bergosh on

The first sentence of an April 11th Media release from the University of British Columbia caught The Jurassic Sandman's attention.  It read, 'Adding natural elements like sand, bricks, and bamboo can transform a dull outdoor play scape into an imaginative playground for children and even reduce depression signs', according to a new UBC study.

Examples of Unique and Challenging Play Areas

Above are some examples of how play spaces can be designed to reflect the unique character of a place, contribute to the overall feeling of a play space and differentiate one play environment from another.

The study lasted six months and 'involved adding sand, grasses and water features to the outdoor play facilities of two daycare centers in East Vancouver (Canada), and observing children's behavior before and after the changes'. 

I read on.  First the researchers filmed 46 children - ages two to five years old - before the addition of natural elements. 'Researchers noted that many of the children appeared to be at a loss filling their free time in the playgrounds'... both locations 'were just open spaces, dotted with a play set or two'.

Lead author of the study, Susan Herrington, a professor of landscape architecture at UBC, said in this video released by the university that "I've never seen this amount of boredom or dazed looks."

The news release goes on to say the researchers used potted plants to divide the play area into "sub-spaces" and added ornamental grasses, sand, bricks and water features, and then waited two weeks before testing again.

The results: a "marked increase in the children's activity...they were more energetic and creative, exploring their environment, touching things, inventing games and interacting with their peers a lot more".

The 'children also appeared to be happier. A decline in depressive behaviors - measured using a popular assessment tool - was also observed'. "Depressive symptoms like looking sad or not smiling much went down after the modifications. The videos showed kids much more engaged in play and engaged in positive ways with each other" said co-researcher Mariana Brussoni, an associate professor at UBC.

The children were also less dependent on their teachers and interacted with adults less than half as much then before the redesign. To The Jurassic Sandman, this is a big finding that all parents need to heed. I think of the time when I was a new parent and my boys would say "I'm bored", and look to me to entertain them.

So one takeaway is that some easy and inexpensive additions to your backyard can change how engaged your child or grandchild becomes. They than are less likely to seek you out to entertain them, and everyone is happier.

I decided it was worth looking up the study that they based the changes on and read all 54 pages. Much of it dealt with a bigger study of sixteen child care centers and early childhood educators who participated, and one result was even more startling than I had imagined.

They state 'Unfortunately, many play spaces in North America are dominated by pre-fabricated play equipment that does not express the unique qualities of playing outdoors'.

The Jurassic Sandman (and I'm sure you) have seen these play sets in public parks, perhaps your childcare center and maybe even your neighbors backyards. These colorful, and sometimes elaborate, sets are sold for a thousand dollars and more.

What the study found was this expensive play equipment was unoccupied 87% of the time. And, the children only used it for its intended purpose 3% of the time!

This confirms what I have always observed so save your money, skip the expensive play set and buy good clean play sand for your sandbox. Give your kids some shovels, plenty of potted plants to explore, maybe release a cache of ladybugs and praying mantis They'll be happier, you'll be happier and they will be on their way to developing all the developmental skills they need once they start kindergarten.


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