North Country Park Natural Playscape
A child’s adventure is only as limited as their imagination in natural play areas, whether they are exploring a wooded, fantasy forest in search of hidden treasure or climbing a windswept mountain peak on a make-believe expedition. Natural play areas are park features made of natural elements or inspired by nature, which are meant to provide a different sensory experience than modern plastic and metal play structures. They are designed to invoke more creative, free play. In natural areas, kids are encouraged to walk or hop across stumps and logs, race up a cluster of boulders or play tag with friends in a log forest. Using built-in hand water pumps, children can mix sand and water to build sandcastles – getting their hands dirty and exploring in the process.
 
In comparison to previous generations, children today lead a much more sedentary lifestyle. It should come as no surprise that screen-time averages have reached an all-time high for both kids and teens. And it’s far less of a surprise that children are spending less time outside and therefore less time interacting with nature. But, what’s so bad about that? Today, with children’s lives so disconnected from the natural world, their experiences tend to be primarily manufactured in that of a virtual world. And as a result, children are oblivious to the vast landscapes of nature which exists in their very own backyards or local parks. This, in general, only further disconnects a child from an important opportunity — That is, developing a keen understanding and appreciation for mother nature.
 
The natural playscape, or natural playground, is defined as a space with as little man-made components as possible. At its most basic, a natural playground as an outdoor area where children play with natural elements. These natural elements include things such as the rocks, sand, water, and plants. Natural playgrounds can provide children with opportunities inaccessible indoors or on traditional playgrounds. What’s more, is that research surrounding nature based playscapes have shown that they work better for children in numerous ways and support young children’s development in multiple domains. As a matter of fact, nature based playscapes have shown to better stimulate children’s imaginations, boost their energy levels, and increase the amount of time they want to spend outdoors by a significant amount over factory made playgrounds.
 
Nature playgrounds use natural landscapes, natural vegetation, and materials in a creative and interactive way for child play and exploration. They’re designed with the intent to fundamentally enhance and influence a child’s curiosity, imagination, wonder, and discovery, and to nurture a child’s connectedness and appreciation for the world around them. Children have a genuine desire for more complex, challenging and exciting play environments than the traditional playgrounds usually offered them. The technological age has changed the ways in which children play The best and memorable things about our childhood are the ones that happen outside of our house. While there are some things to learn indoors, there are certainly even more lessons and experiences that could be found outdoors. Thus, it is therefore up to parents, communities and schools to re-introduce to children what it means to play in the outdoors, with good ol’ mother nature.
 
Bemidji Parks & Rec. Dept. is partnering with Bemidji Rotary for the addition of a natural playscape playground at North Country Park, 1001 30th Ave. NW, Bemidji, MN 56601
 
**Design elements have yet to be determined. Watch our website and facebook page for updates.** updated 1/2020
 
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