Thursday, April 9, 2015

What Happens When Kids Get Bored?

We speak with many administrators who are leery about safety and standards compliance with nature play. We understand their concerns. One child hurt is too many.  
Our embankment slides are very popular. We have been asked to create playscapes using these slides because of the fun they provide, but we do get asked occasionally if they are safe. We wanted to share several thoughts from the founder of Natural Playgrounds Company regarding hillside slides and nature-based play that may help you determine if this is the right playground for your child and your community.

"...accident rates on traditional, equipment-based playgrounds continue to climb. According to the National Orthopedics Association, accidents on equipment-based playgrounds cost the US almost $14 billion a year, and some of those accidents result in deaths.

What this is saying it that in spite of passing all the stringent safety tests, and meeting all of the safety requirements and guidelines, equipment-based playgrounds are so unsafe that the accidents on them cost the US almost $14 billion a year!.... yet equipment manufacturers have no problem guaranteeing parents that children will be safe playing on their equipment because it has all been tested by ASTM/CPSC/IPEMA to be safe.

How can this possibly be? How is it that accidents on traditional, equipment-based playgrounds continue happening at this alarming rate? $14 billion!

We couldn't figure it out, and none of the safety experts could provide us answers, either, so we decided we needed to ask children what's going on. 

We interviewed 6000 of them, and they all gave us a very simple answer.

Manufactured playgrounds are boring.

The first day of school, it's all very exciting. The second day of school, it's the same thing as it was yesterday. The second month of school, it's the same thing it was the first day. The second year of school, it's the same as it was the first day.

Couple that with the sea of wood chips or rubberized surfacing, and you have a play environment that is absolutely lifeless, unchallenging, and leading to no discovery-oriented play, which is where the fun really is.

When children get bored, they do things on the equipment for which it was not designed: running up slides, and falling off the sides. Pushing each other out of boredom, sometimes over the sides of equipment. Climbing up on the tops of railings to jump off doing helicopters. Shinnying up swing supports so they can hang from the crossbar. Anything that makes play more exciting, but in being rambunctious on equipment elevated above the ground, they get in accidents, one after the other, to the tune of $14 billion a year here in the US.

In stark contrast to this, accident rates on natural playgrounds are almost nonexistent. The whole concept is to provide so much ground-based, discovery-oriented play based on natural landscapes, that children (and adults) constantly find new things, changes that take place overnight, insects and wildlife that inhabit the natural environment, giant, deep, freeform sand play areas with old-fashioned pitcher pumps so they can make big sand sculptures and dig to China, big logs lying on the ground so they can sit on them or straddle them, big hills they can run up and roll down...

...and built into those hills at ground level, they find exciting things to do:
• amphitheaters with stone or log seats for sitting on the hill that faces a stage for dramatic play
• a slide built into the hill, so there is no place to fall off the sides, with a typical fall zone at its base
• a climbing wall built into the hill, with a typical fall zone at its base
• shallow caves
• rock scrambles
• forts built into the tops of hills
• and many other features that make the three-dimensional hill an exciting place to be.

Then there are gardens that are part of the play area so children can play play in them, dig in them, weed them, harvest them; and there are groves of trees, and shallow streams, and rain gardens, and sound gardens, and huge loose parts play areas.

There are literally no heights from which children fall, which makes natural playgrounds inherently and significantly safer than the traditional equipment-based playgrounds to which you refer.

Every one of our playgrounds is designed to meet all ASTM and CPSC standards, and CPSI's who come to inspect them have fewer issues with them than with traditional, equipment-based playgrounds. ADA is pleased with them, as well, because play elements on natural playgrounds are all ground-based and very easily accessible.

.... we are trying to expose them to much more calm, discovery-oriented, nature-based play experiences that teach them about their bodies, nature, social interaction, and collaboration.

When I was a child, I would make forts out of branches, or I'd climb a tree and hug the trunk, or I'd lie on my back and look up at the leaves and pine needles against the sky, or I'd look down and find a dog toothed violet poking its spring head up through the leaves, or I'd sit and push the leaves around me into a circle that became my room, or I'd pick the wild strawberry in the field, and watch a grasshopper perched on a strand of grass moving in the gentle breeze.

These are the kinds of experiences we are trying to bring to play environments".

Ron King is president of the Natural Playgrounds company headquartered in Concord New Hampshire. The company designs and constructs Natural Playgrounds all over the US and can be reached through the web at, by e-mail at, or by toll-free phone 888-290-8405. Their website is full of research, pictures, fundraising sources, and information about Natural Playgrounds. Their store carries many of the items mentioned in the article.