Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children with the Natural World

Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children with the Natural World

by Nancy Striniste


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“A magnificent resource for transforming backyards into stimulating environments which enhance children’s creativity, learning, and fun.” —Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the WoodsThe Nature Principle, and Vitamin N

Access to technology has created a generation of children who are more plugged in than ever before—often with negative consequences. But there is a solution. Unrestricted outdoor play helps reduce stress, improve health, and enhance creativity, learning, and attention span. In Nature Play at Home, Nancy Striniste gives you the tools you need to make outdoor adventures possible in your own backyard. With hundreds of inspiring ideas and illustrated, step-by-step projects, this hardworking book details how to create playspaces that use natural materials—like logs, boulders, sand, water, and plants of all kinds. Projects include hillside slides, seating circles, sand pits, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604698251
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/02/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 732,197
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Nancy Striniste is the founder and principal designer at EarlySpace, LLC. She has a background as both a landscape designer and an early childhood educator. She teaches at Antioch New England University in their nature-based early childhood graduate certificate program and serves on the leadership team of NoVA Outside. Read more about Nancy and her work at

Read an Excerpt

When you think back to your own childhood (especially if you are of a certain age), you probably remember spending a lot of time outdoors, roaming free, climbing trees, building stuff, and mucking in mud.

Children’s lives have become more structured and supervised. Many kids spend a great deal of time in front of screens and much less time than past generations playing outside. Academic pressures and parental fears are just two of the reasons for this shift. Depending on where a family lives, fears may be based on real danger outside the door, or created by media that escalates unrealistic worries. Many parents are afraid to allow their children outside unattended, and too busy to accompany them as often as needed. Distance or traffic can make access to play places difficult, which further separates children from these essential experiences of unstructured activity outside in nature.

To illustrate this dilemma, consider a 2007 report by Dr. William Bird, published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It compared four members of a family, each in a different generation, and their outdoor experiences at age 8. When George, the great-grandfather, was 8 years old in 1926, he walked everywhere because his family could not afford a bike for him. He regularly walked six miles on his own to his favorite fishing spot. In 1950, when the grandfather was 8 years old, he walked a mile on his own to play in the woods, and also walked to school. The mother was an 8-year-old in 1979, and was allowed to ride her bike throughout the neighborhood and to the local pool, a half-mile away. Edward, an 8-year old in 2007, was driven the short distance to school and taken by car to a safe place to ride his bicycle. He was allowed to go about 300 yards to the end of his block on his own, but often didn’t enjoy that because there were no other children outside. Edward took piano lessons and skiing lessons and had a trampoline and jungle gym in his yard.

Humans have an innate need to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. E.O. Wilson called this drive biophilia. When this drive is denied, and children don’t have the opportunity to form essential relationships with the natural environment, there are consequences for children’s physical and mental health and for their anxiety and stress levels. Thanks to Richard Louv, who gathered all the pieces and first presented them so compellingly in his book Last Child in the Woods (2005), we now have a term that describes what many of today’s children experience. Louv called it nature deficit disorder, and by naming it, he launched a worldwide movement and a basis for critical conversations.

An exploding body of research tells us that time in nature is crucial to healthy human development. It improves the body’s overall health and reduces allergies, anxiety, and symptoms of ADHD. It boosts confidence, creativity, and cooperation as children play. Time in nature also encourages active play, which reduces obesity. There is even evidence that nearsightedness is reduced and test scores are improved when children spend more time outdoors in nature. It is heart-wrenching to see the limits placed on play in so many ways and in so many places. Recess has been shortened and is non-existent in some schools. Covenants at condos and in subdivisions limit play to sterile spaces, and parks prohibit tree climbing. But there is, I believe, reason to be encouraged. On many fronts, the pendulum is swinging back.

Across the country and around the world, committed mothers and fathers, along with educators, caregivers, and policymakers, are working to provide more recess and require less sitting time. Many parents have made a conscious decision to reduce scheduled extracurricular activities, wanting their children to spend more time in nature. Families are organizing nature clubs, and there is a growing number of forest schools and adventure playgrounds popping up across the United States.

For me, as a designer in this field for more than thirty years, the swing is evidenced by the growing number of inquiries I get from families, schools, early childhood programs, and municipalities, all looking to provide nearby places where their children can play in nature. This book is intended as a guide to help you as a parent understand, advocate for, and bring nature play to your neighborhood—whether it is in your local park, your children’s schoolyard, common spaces in your community, or your own backyard. I’ve had the opportunity to create some wonderful backyard play spaces, working with my crew of top-notch landscape professionals.

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