Nature Play Spaces

Modern life has removed the traditional nature play many of today's adults experienced as children. The National Wildlife Federation wants to bring nature back to America's playgrounds.

Research indicates that, when children play and learn in nature, they do so with more vigor, engagement, imagination, and cooperation than in wholly artificial environments, and that symptoms of attention deficit and depression are reduced. Experts agree that children need access to nature the same way they need good nutrition and adequate sleep.

We're creating guidelines and working to develop sample "nature play spaces" to help transform playgrounds, schoolyards, childcare centers, museums, and zoos into spaces where kids can connect, play, and learn in nature. Our project will help restore children’s relationship with nature by bringing it back to the play and learning places of everyday life.

Nature Play Space

What is a Nature Play Space?

The idea behind a nature play space is that, instead of the standard, cookie-cutter metal and plastic structures that make up the bulk of today's playgrounds, people can incorporate the surrounding landscape and vegetation to bring nature to children's daily outdoor play and learning environments.

Nature Play at Home

Children have a natural affinity toward nature. The National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative at North Carolina State University have created a guide for creating enticing outdoor play spaces as close as your backyard, patio, or balcony.

Nature Play at Home: A Guide for Boosting Children’s Healthy Development and Creativity shows parents and caregivers how they can turn an uninspired outdoor environment into an entertaining and exciting play area that will have kids racing to, “Go outside and play!”


Examples of Nature Play Space "Equipment"

Guidelines for Creating Nature Play Spaces

In an effort funded by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Wildlife Federation is working with the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) to develop design guidelines that can be used by a wide range of institutions, including parks, museums, nature centers, and childcare centers. The guidelines show managers of schools, parks, childcare centers, and public lands how to make nature a part of children's outdoor play and learning areas. They also identify the core elements of a nature play space and demonstrate how to address management, liability and accessibility issues.

Parents, educators, conservationists, and recreation professionals are seeking more challenging and creative ways to connect kids with nature and the outdoors, and these guidelines are a resource for planning, designing, and managing quality natural play and learning areas. The guidelines draw from principal author Robin Moore’s extensive landscape design experience, case studies of 12 existing nature play areas across the country, and the contributions from representatives from more than 20 national organizations.

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“Ensuring children have the chance to regularly experience and interact with nature is a priority for local parks and recreation. With these guidelines in hand, park and recreation departments can design, build and maintain successful nature play areas in any type of community for all people to enjoy.”
— Barbara Tulipane, CEO of National Recreation and Park Association

“It is more important than ever that we work in every community to reconnect people with wildlife and nature and Nature Play & Learning Places will help conservationists, educators, and recreation professionals to work on that shared goal.”
— Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of National Wildlife Federation

Nature Play & Learning Places offers essential guidance for designing places we need. We need to provide our children with natural settings in which to play, learn, and thrive. We need to help them form emotional bonds with the abounding beauty of flowers and trees, rivers and streams, critters and clouds. We need them to be fascinated by these things, to grow into close and careful observers of the world around them, to feel not only appreciative but protective, and to be prepared to live their lives accordingly. This is a public health strategy, an environmental strategy, and educational strategy … and a path to the future we want.”
— Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., Dean, University of Washington School of Public Health

“Nature play and learning places are an innovative and fun way to connect families with our public lands. These guidelines can help us improve children’s health and learning at the same time that we encourage appreciation for wildlife and natural systems.”
— Fran Mainella, former director of the National Park Service and a visiting scholar at Clemson University and project steering committee member

“In order to build and sustain vibrant communities, we must offer children an opportunity to connect with nature. The framework provided through ‘Nature Play & Learning Places’ helps design places where children will develop an appreciation for the outdoors and to sustain those places for future generations of environmental stewards."
— Jennifer Jehn, President and CEO of Keep America Beautiful

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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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Regional Centers and Affiliates