An earlier generation of kids may have spent all their free time playing in the woods, but in today’s world of helicopter parenting and stranger danger, letting their children do the same is unthinkable for many parents.
Now, park designers and officials as well as school boards are trying to reacquaint kids with nature, not by sending them into the forest, but by creating what are called natural playgrounds.
“Connecting to nature is something that’s becoming more and more important everywhere,” says Adam Bienenstock of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, a design and construction company based in Dundas, Ont.
Mr. Bienenstock designed Vancouver’s first natural playground, built at Grandview Elementary School in 2011, as well as what promises to be Edmonton’s first, at Donnan Park. The company also has projects under way in Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Fort McMurray, Alta.
This week, the Toronto District School Board rejected a plan to sell off playground land to help pay for capital projects, reaffirming the importance of wide-open spaces to children’s development.
The movement to swap swings, slides and monkey bars for boulders, grassy hills and trees is gaining ground across Canada, the United States and other countries. Advocates say natural playgrounds prompt much more imaginative free play, foster social interaction and cut down on bullying, and encourage the sort of risk-taking some experts say overcautious parenting has been unintentionally blocking.
Their emergence can be traced back to the 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, by journalist…
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