One thing is obvious when you watch children on a playground: kids LOVE to play. Studies also support a child’s need to connect with the natural world as a regular part of healthy growth and development. Because today’s children are no longer able to spend hours exploring nature as previous generations enjoyed, the new concept of natural playgrounds is a wonderful way to allow children to reconnect to nature while promoting healthy lives in the process.
Recently, with the help of hundreds of volunteers from General Electric, a beautiful natural playground was created at one of Metro United Way’s Excellence Academy early learning centers – supported in partnership with the Lift a Life Foundation and Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C) – Keystone Learning Academy in the Parkhill neighborhood located in Louisville’s west end.
Natural playgrounds include features not seen in a typical playground such as nature art areas where children use sticks, pinecones and leaves to learn textures. Messy materials areas encourage children to use their imagination and play freely, while music and movement areas support making music and dancing. Tree stumps, water areas, sand areas and grassy areas provide varieties of exploration and learning.
On top of being fun for children, regular exercise through exposure to natural playgrounds can help reduce prevalent health issues facing children with a disconnection of nature, or “Nature Deficit Disorder,” such as childhood obesity, elevated stress levels, depression and increased reliance on behavior-regulating medications. Research also shows that when children are healthy, they perform better in school! Metro United Way sees helping our children do better in school as the best way to improve lives and our community in the long run.